PARIS: Hooded gunmen stormed the Paris offices of a weekly satirical magazine, killing at least 12 people, including two police officers in the worst militant attack on French soil in recent decades.
Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is well known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders.
Two assailants were captured on video calmly leaving the scene after the shooting. A police union official said the assailants remained at liberty and there were fears of further attacks.
France Info radio said police had confirmed 10 injured. Police informed Reuters that of the 10 wounded, five were injured critically. The news channel quoted a witness as saying he saw the incident from a building nearby in the heart of the French capital.
Some of the best-known cartoonists in France were among the 12 killed when gunmen stormed the office, AFP reported a judicial source as saying.
Editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, and the cartoonists known as Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski were among those killed.
“This is a terrorist attack, there is no doubt about it,” President Francois Hollande told reporters after rushing to the scene of the attack.
“An act of indescribable barbarity has just been committed today in Paris,” he said.
“Measures have been taken to find those responsible, they will be hunted for as long as it takes to catch them and bring them to justice.”
His government raised France's security level to the highest notch and scheduled an emergency cabinet meeting.
US President Barack Obama condemned the “terrorist attack” and pledged US assistance.
“We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice,” he said.
“For us to see the kind of cowardly, evil attacks that took place today, I think, reinforces once again why it's so important for us to stand in solidarity with them, just as they stand in solidarity with us.”
“The fact that this was an attack on journalists, attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom, of speech and freedom of the press,” he added.
British Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack as sickening.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned the “despicable” attack in a condolence letter to President Hollande.
“I was shocked to learn of the despicable attack on the newspaper in Paris,” the German leader wrote.
“It is also an attack on freedom of expression and the press, a key component of our free democratic culture, which cannot be justified,” she added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country condemned all forms of “terror”, but said terrorism and increasing Islamophobia in Europe were “interconnected”.
“We must fight against increasing racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe which threaten all our values. We must also fight against any form of terrorism,” he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi condemned the deadly attack and said that it highlighted the need to close ranks against militants, AFP reported.
“This terrorist attack (is) condemned by Iraq, which has suffered greatly at the hands of terrorist groups,” Abadi said in a statement.
“This confirms that terrorism threatens all the countries of the world, and not Iraq alone,” he said, calling for “concerted efforts of the international community in fighting it.”
Qatar also expressed “strong” condemnation of the attack in Paris.
“Such acts that target unarmed civilians contradict all principles and moral and human values,” Qatar's foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Arab League and Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious centre of learning, both condemned the deadly attack as well.
Al-Azhar condemned the “criminal attack,” saying that “Islam denounces any violence”, in remarks carried by Egypt's state news agency MENA.
In a separate statement to AFP, Al-Azhar senior official Abbas Shoman said the institution “does not approve of using violence even if it was in response to an offence committed against sacred Muslim sentiments”.
The Telegraph quoted a broadcast journalist with Europe1 News as saying, "Several men in black cagoules were heard to shout 'the Prophet has been avenged'."
Earlier on, the Guardian in it its live updates quoted its reporter as saying: "The journalist Martin Boudot, from the Premières Lignes agency, has posted this video from the roof of a building situated close to the Charlie Hebdo building. we can hear gunshots and voices who cry ‘Allahu akbar’."
“About a half an hour ago two black-hooded men entered the building with Kalashnikovs (guns),” Benoit Bringer told the station. “A few minutes later we heard lots of shots,” he said, adding that the men were then seen fleeing the building.
A firebomb attack gutted the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in November 2011 after it put an image of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on its cover.
The last major attack in Paris was in the mid-1990s when the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) carried out a spate of attacks, including the bombing of a commuter train in 1995 which killed eight people and injured 150.