The "net is closing in" on gunman Raoul Moat after police detained two men they had feared he was holding hostage.
The men, found walking in a village in Newcastle, were actually arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.
Detectives had feared Moat kidnapped two men after shooting his ex-partner and killing his new lover.
But, Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who is leading the manhunt, said: "I can confirm that both men are the people that we believe were the hostages. Both have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. Both are currently in Police custody."
Detectives said Moat was still at large but a car he is believed to have been driving had also been located in the village, Rothbury, where police set up an exclusion zone.
Northumbria Police Temporary Chief Constable Sue Sim Said: "As a precautionary measure, we are closing down a geographic area near Rothbury. This is a two-mile radial exclusion zone on the ground."
Following his release from jail, the bodybuilder and former nightclub doorman went on the run after gunning down Sam Stobbart, karate instructor Chris Brown and Pc David Rathband in cold blood.
Moat, 37, a steroid-abusing father-of-three, had been thought to have kidnapped the two men - a white man and an Asian man - as he evaded justice.
In a series of taunts to police in a letter and telephone calls, Moat boasted of kidnapping.
Mr Adamson added: "At an early stage it was believed Mr Moat may have taken two hostages around the time of the shooting in Birtley.
"We have been dealing with this matter in accordance with national guidelines in relation to kidnap.
"Throughout this time there has been a significant risk to the lives of the two men.
"Shortly after 10am this morning, one of a continuing number of firearms operations was progressed in the Rothbury area of Northumberland.
"This followed some key information from the public, which led us to recover the black Lexus car.
"This car was unoccupied when found.
"Intelligence led us to conduct an operation, during which we arrested two men who were on foot walking along a public road near Rothbury in Northumberland."