Singaporean on holiday in Paris recounts shock at fatal gunman attack

Singaporean on holiday in Paris recounts shock at fatal gunman attack
French soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as part of the highest level of "Vigipirate" security plan after a shooting at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo January 7, 2015.

When Singaporean Edwin Chia, 24, walked into an upscale restaurant in Paris for lunch on Wednesday, he was greeted by a strange sight.

The patrons and the staff were huddled around the TV watching the news.

He told The New Paper: "I thought it was common for them to do so."

Mr Chia, who was on the fourth day of his vacation in Paris, said the waitress was more interested in watching the news than serving him.

Said the third-year university student: "Initially, I thought she was being rude."

On the way back to his hotel, which is about 4km from where the shooting occurred, he noticed a number of police cars speeding off in different directions.

That was when he began to worry.

He told TNP via WhatsApp: "When you see police cars zooming past, it's a little disconcerting not knowing what is happening."

Mr Chia said he realised the gravity of the situation only when he reached the hotel and the staff told him about the attack on the French satirical weekly which killed 12 people, including the editor and some of France's most treasured cartoonists, and injured many others.

He said: "My initial reaction was shock. The staff told us to be careful as the gunmen were still out there.

"I couldn't wait to fly off."

For the rest of the day, Mr Chia stayed in his hotel. He said he did not want to go out "because the attackers were still at large".

Soon, he began receiving messages from concerned Singaporean friends worried about his well-being.

He spent the remainder of the day reassuring them that he was fine.

Mr Chia said his parents were unaware that he was in Paris and he has no intention of telling them any time soon.

He said: "I don't want to alarm them. They would probably ask too many questions."

He left Paris yesterday for Bangkok.

Meanwhile, French security forces desperately hunted Cherif Kouachi, 32, a known terrorist convicted in 2008 for his involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq, and his 34-year-old brother Said.

They are the prime suspects in the attack on the magazine.

But Hamyd Mourad, an 18-year-old suspected of being an accomplice in the attack, handed himself in, with police sources saying he had seen his name "circulating on social media".

With thousands of police scouring France after the bloodiest terrorist attack in the country in half a century, the two men - still armed - robbed a petrol station in the northern Aisne region. They stole food and petrol, firing shots as they struck, French media reported.

According to the manager of the service station which was robbed, the attackers fit the description of the two men and who were heavily armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, BBC reported.

Amid French media reports that the men had abandoned their car, Mr Bruno Fortier, the mayor of neighbouring Crepy-en-Valois, said helicopters were circling his town and police and anti-terrorism forces were deploying en masse.

As fear spread, several other incidents rocked the jittery nation, although it was not clear whether they were linked to Wednesday's attack.

A gunman shot dead a policewoman and wounded a city employee just to the south of Paris and there was an explosion at a kebab shop in eastern France, with no casualties immediately reported. Two Muslim places of worship were also fired upon.

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