LONDON (Reuters) - Police hunting suspected gunman Raoul Moat said on Tuesday the net was closing in on him as officers imposed an exclusion zone around the village of Rothbury in Northumberland.
They earlier announced they had found two men who they say may have been taken hostage by Moat. Both have now been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, leading the search for the 37-year-old body-builder, said the two men were found, unhurt, walking alongside a road near Rothbury.
"Throughout this operation we have been dealing with a complex, fast-moving and challenging hostage situation," he told reporters.
"At this time Mr Moat has not been located but I am confident that with the support of the public and the efforts our staff we are closing the net." He would not give any more details about why the two men had been arrested although he said there had been a "significant risk" to their lives.
Armed police were called to an area of Rothbury after a black Lexus car believed to have been driven by Moat was found.
Earlier, police from six forces intensified their search for Moat after shootings in Gateshead and Newcastle at the weekend.
A 49-page hand-written letter, purportedly by Moat, to Northumbria police and published by the Sun newspaper on Tuesday suggested he was pursuing a vendetta against the force.
"Last night I called 999 and declared war on Northumbria Police before shooting an officer on the West End A69 roundabout in his T5 (patrol car)," the letter said.
"The public need not fear me but the police should as I won't stop till I'm dead."
Northumbria police, who are leading the manhunt, would not confirm the letter was from Moat.
Moat is suspected of shooting his former girlfriend, Samantha Stobbart, 22, and killing her boyfriend, Chris Brown, 20, early on Saturday morning at her mother's home in Gateshead, shortly after he was released from jail.
He then allegedly shot and critically injured PC David Rathband, 42, as he sat in a patrol car a few miles away at East Denton, Newcastle.
In the letter, Moat blamed police for wrecking his life and destroying his relationship with Stobbart. He has also accused a member of Northumbria police of having an affair with her, an allegation the force denies.
"I'm not on the run, I will keep killing police until I am dead," the letter said. "They've hunted me for years, now it's my turn."
(Editing by Steve Addison)