French police arrest young people on a scooter as they arrive near the scene of a hostage taking at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. (Photo: Reuters)
French forces sealed off a small northern town where police sources said gunmen had seized at least one hostage, and shooting broke out in Paris as the biggest security dragnet of modern times closed on chief suspects in an attack on a Paris journal.
The attack has raised questions in France about policing, surveillance of radicals, far-right politics, religion and censorship - all in a country still struggling to integrate its five-million-head Muslim population, the EU's largest.
On Friday, police vans, armoured cars and ambulances ringed the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, set in marsh and woodland, and helicopters hovered overhead. Residents were told to stay at home and schools near a printing works where two gunmen were holed up were evacuated.
A second hostage-taking was reported at a Paris kosher supermarket.
The gunman has threatened to kill the hostages if police storm the terrorist brothers, according to news agency Associated Press.
The Interior Ministry said security forces surrounding a small print works in Dammartin-en-Goele were trying to make contact with the gunmen, who had earlier in the day evaded police in a high-speed car chase on a highway to Paris.
"This can take a long time, hours and sometimes days," Interior Minister spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said in a tweet.
The gunmen had been on the run since they stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical journal known for its ridicule of Islam and other religions as well as political figures. Western leaders condemned the attack as an assault on democracy. Al Qaeda's North Africa branch praised the gunmen as "knight(s) of truth".
News of a further shootout, in Paris, a third in two days, demonstrated the scale of the threat facing French authorities and the force of nearly 90,000 mobilised nationwide for the search action.
A police source said several people were taken hostage at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris after a shootout involving a man armed with two guns.
The source said he bore a resemblance to the gunman suspected of killing a policewoman in a separate shooting in southern Paris on Thursday and believed to be a member of the same jihadist group, Butte Chaumont, as the two Hebdo suspects.
Police released pictures of a 32-year-old man, Amedy Coulibaly, and a 26-year-old woman, Hayat Boumeddiene, wanted in connection with the southern Paris incident.