Paris. Twelve people were killed and 11 wounded after a group of gunmen assaulted the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday.

Two masked gunmen armed with assault rifles opened fire in and around the offices of the satirical magazine, killing nine employees, two policemen and one guest. Eyewitness videos show a policeman being shot at point-blank range by one of the terrorists, who were shouting “God is great” in Arabic and “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” in French. Eleven were reported to have been wounded, four of them in critical condition.

The magazine’s top cartoonists – Jean “Cabu” Cabut, Bernard “Tignous” Velhac, Georges Wolinski, Philippe Honoré and editor-in-chief Stéphanne “Charb” Charbonnier, were all killed. The assailants had forced entry into the building after killing a man; they assaulted an editorial meeting where eight journalists, a police officer tasked to protect Charbonnier and a guest were killed with shots to the head and chest. A second policeman was wounded and killed with a shot to the head at close range. The attackers then fled the scene on a black vehicle.

Police has launched a massive manhunt throughout the Île-de-France area, telling journalists that the attackers were three in total. A police union official said that further attacks could be expected.

The attack comes after a satirical tweet of Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was posted by the magazine only hours earlier. However, Charlie Hebdo has a history of lampooning religions, particularly Islam, with provocative depictions of prophet Muhammad. In 2005, it reposted a cartoon first published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.

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Later in 2011, the magazine came out with a series of cartoons of Muhammad, including such that featured nudity. The site of Charlie Hebdo was hacked and its offices were set ablaze. Stéphanne Charbonnier, who has been editor-in-chief since 2009, became one of Al-Qaeda’s primary targets as a result. Several publications connected to the terrorist group listed him as “wanted, dead or alive, for crimes against Islam”. French police put him under protection following these threats; one of the murdered officers at the scene was part of his security detail.

According to an eyewitness, the assailants were informing bystanders in the area that Al-Qaeda in Yemen is responsible for the act. The gunmen then proceeded to carry out the attack. According to police sources, they were seemingly well-trained, possibly with a military background, and were well-organised. Newspaper Le Point reports that two French citizens, 32 and 34 years of age and of Algerian descent, are suspected to have organised the shooting. They had combat experience from the Syrian civil war and had recruited fighters for a terrorist group in Iraq between 2003 and 2005.

Tens of thousands of French citizens throughout the country gathered on spontaneous vigils and rallies against the shootings. Demonstrators and online activists all came under the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) expressing their solidarity with the victims, support for free speech and national unity. Vigils were held in other European countries as well.

Candles and a "Je suis Charlie" poster at a rally in Cologne, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)
Candles and a “Je suis Charlie” poster at a rally in Cologne, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)

In a brief TV address, President Hollande declared Thursday a day of national morning and urged the nation to remain united. The attack was condemned by many governments and political figures worldwide, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Muslim Council of France, among others.

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The attack will also raise a number of domestic issues inside some European Union members. Some suggest that far-right and nationalist parties like French nationalist Marine Le Pen’s Front National and the PEGIDA anti-Islamisation movement in Germany could be reinforced in a possible anti-Islamic wave among voters.

(Reuters, agencies)

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