By Pete Williams
After a long day of rapidly changing information, U.S. counterterrorism officials said Wednesday night that they cannot be certain of the status of the three suspects in the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine. Information from French sources has been contradictory, they said.
Earlier Wednesday, two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials told NBC News that one of the suspects in the attack had been killed and that two others were in custody. However, the officials later said the information that was the basis of that account could not be confirmed.Authorities earlier identified the three men as Said Kouachi, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, French nationals who are brothers, and Hamyd Mourad, 18. Late Wednesday, French police released photos of the brothers and asked for public help in finding them, and French authorities said the youngest of the three suspects had surrendered to police.
An official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the investigation told The Associated Press that the men were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network. Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq’s insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Twelve people were killed in the attack by gunmen, armed with AK-47s, who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has enraged Muslims for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
A source familiar with the investigation told NBC News on Wednesday night that two officers who had been assigned to protect editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier for the past several years came down from an upper floor and intercepted the gunmen. Both officers were shot, however, and one died at the scene. The other was wounded and is expected to survive.
The men targeted those magazine employees who had created or published cartoons showing Muhammad — asking for their victims by name, the source said. They executed Charbonnier, popularly known as Charb; Bernard Maris, a Bank of France economist who was a columnist for the magazine; and three cartoonists.