PARIS, Jan 7 – At least 12 people were killed when gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs and a rocket-launcher opened fire in the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, said sources close to the investigation. Following the incident, the government raised its alert level to the highest possible in the greater Paris region.
Ten members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff were killed in the attack, as well as two police officers, a police spokesman said. The attack took place during the weekly’s editorial meeting, when all the journalists were supposed to be present, according to a France TV source.
The attackers who stormed the offices shouted “we have avenged the prophet”, according to witnesses cited by a police source. French President Francois Hollande said it is a terror attack “of exceptional barbarity” and that “several terrorist attacks were thwarted in recent weeks”, The Telegraph reported.
“We need to show we are a united country,” he was quoted by The Guardian as saying. “We will fight these threats and we will punish the attackers.” Deputy Mayor of Paris Bruno Julliard earlier said “six people are seriously injured”, including a policeman. It was not clear whether these now figured among the dead.
Mr Hollande arrived at the scene of the shooting after rushing there and calling an emergency Cabinet meeting, the presidency said. A source close to the investigation said two men “armed with a Kalashnikov and a rocket-launcher” stormed the building in central Paris and “fire was exchanged with security forces.”
The source said gunmen had hijacked a car and knocked over a pedestrian as he sped away. This tweet, by Le Monde journalist Elise Barthet, appears to show two gunmen pointing their weapons at a police car: The publication’s cartoonist Renaud Luzier earlier told AFP there were “casualties” after the incident.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday condemned the “barbaric” attack, saying Britain stood with its ally against “all forms of terrorism”. Cameron made the comments about the attack at the start of his weekly question and answer session in parliament’s lower House of Commons.
“I’m sure the whole House will want join me in condemning the barbaric attack this morning on an office of a magazine in Paris,” he said. “While details are still unclear, I know that this house and this country stands united with the French people in our opposition to all forms of terrorism and we stand squarely for free speech and democracy.
Earlier, Cameron said in a Twitter message that the killings were “sickening”, while Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was “appalled” to hear about the “apparent terrorist attack”. The United States said it condemned the deadly shooting attack in the “strongest possible terms.”
“Everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were killed or injured in this attack,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, speaking on MSNBC. The satirical magazine gained notoriety in February 2006 when it reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, causing fury across the Muslim world.
Its offices were fire-bombed in November 2011 when it published a cartoon of Mohammed and under the title “Charia Hebdo”. Despite being taken to court under anti-racism laws, the magazine continued to publish controversial cartoons of the Muslim prophet.
In September 2012 Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of a naked Mohammed as violent protests were taking place in several countries over a low-budget film, titled “Innocence of Muslims”, which was made in the United States and insulted the prophet.
French schools, consulates and cultural centres in 20 Muslim countries were briefly closed along with embassies for fear of retaliatory attacks. Editor Stephane Charbonnier has received death threats and lives under police protection.