The two men accused of launching a deadly attack on a Paris newspaper office remained at large Thursday, evading a massive police and military dragnet despite reported sightings of the suspects throughout the day.
Armed and masked anti-terrorism police, backed by helicopters and armoured vehicles, swooped on woodland villages northeast of Paris where the suspects, brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi, were believed to be on the run. They were identified in connection with the robbery of a nearby gas station. But, as darkness fell, the anti-terrorism officers pulled back empty-handed.
Thursday was a day of anxious mourning across France, marked by touching memorials to the 12 people killed in the brazen gun attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, intermingled with bursts of violence that kept the country on edge.
As a minute's silence was held across France, some in the crowd outside the paper's offices held up press cards, revealing themselves to also be journalists.
Under sudden rain at that moment, members of the public were sombre. Some held pencils up to the sky. As the silence ended, the crowd broke into spontaneous applause. The bells of Notre Dame pealed and, as night fell, the lights of the Eiffel Tower were turned off in a gesture of mourning.
Following an outpouring of support that saw "I am Charlie" adopted as a slogan by free-speech defenders worldwide, the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo announced they would produce an issue as scheduled next Wednesday and distribute an unprecedented million copies, compared to its usual print run of 60,000. Other French media outlets vowed to help in the effort.
But fear and anger also stalked the country.
Paris awoke Thursday to the news that another police officer had been shot and killed by an unknown gunman in the south of the city while responding to a reported traffic accident. However, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters there was no known link between that killing and the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
The officer was identified in the French media as Clarissa Jean-Philippe, a police officer in her mid-20s from Martinique, who had been on the job for only 15 days. A street cleaner who confronted the gunman was shot in the face and said to be in serious condition.
Witnesses said the assailant fled in a Renault Clio. Police sources said he wore a bulletproof vest and had a an assault rifle and a handgun.
Searches for the Kouachi brothers were taking place in Corcy and the nearby village of Longpont, set in thick forest and boggy marshland about 80 kilometres north of Paris, but it was not clear whether the fugitives who had been spotted in the area were holed up or had moved on.
Corcy residents looked bewildered as heavily armed policeman in ski masks and helmets combed the village meticulously from houses to garages and barns.
"We're hearing that the men could be in the forest, but there's no information so we're watching television to see," Corcy villager Jacques said.
In neighbouring Longpont, a resident said police had told villagers to stay indoors because the gunmen may have abandoned their car there.
With the Kouachi brothers still at large, police said their top concern remained the possibility of some kind of follow-up attack.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, asked on RTL radio whether he feared a further attack, said: "That's obviously our main concern and that is why thousands of police and investigators have been mobilized to catch these individuals."
At Porte d'Orléans, one of the capital's main gateways, more than a dozen white police vans lined the main avenue. Officers stood guard with bulletproof jackets and rifles.
Worries of a campaign of revenge actions against France's large Muslim community also loomed large amid reports of small explosions near two mosques, one outside the southern city of Lyons, the other in Le Mans, west of Paris. Shots were reportedly fired at a third mosque in the Mediterranean city of Port-la-Nouvelle.
Ben Ali, the manager of the main mosque in Gennevilliers – the Paris suburb where the Kouachi brothers lived before Wednesday's attack – told The Globe and Mail that the mosque had been directly threatened in Internet postings.
Mr. Cazeneuve, the Interior Minister, said the country would "not tolerate any act, any threat aimed against a place of worship or any hostile manifestation against French people because of their origin or their religion."
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National movement that has seen a surge in recent elections and polls – despite accusations of Islamophobic rhetoric – called for a national referendum on the death penalty.
But the backlash, so far, has been isolated. The country's mood was far better captured by Charlie Hebdo's decision to press on and publish again next week.
"We will continue," Charlie Hebdo contributor Patrick Pelloux told French media. "It's very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win."
On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to the French embassy in Washington to pay his respects.
He wrote in a condolence book, "As allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended. We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for – ideals that light the world."
With reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse