Masked gunmen stormed the office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday, killing 12 people in an apparent reprisal for the publication’s caricatures lampooning Islam.
The magazine’s well-known cartoonists, including its editor, were among those killed, along with two police officers, in an incident that has sparked outrage and shocked people around the world.
Freanch President Francois Hollande described the killings as a terrorist attack “of exceptional barbarity”.
People had been “murdered in a cowardly manner”, Hollande told reporters at the scene. “We are threatened because we are a country of liberty,” he added, appealing for national unity.
The masked attackers opened fire with assault rifles in the office and exchanged shots with police in the street outside before escaping by car. They later abandoned the car in Rue de Meaux, northern Paris, where they hijacked a second car, BBC reported.
Witnesses were quoted as saying that they heard the gunmen shouting “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic (“Allahu Akbar”).
The attack took place during the magazine’s daily editorial meeting. Apart from those dead, at least four people were critically wounded in the attack.
A major police operation is under way to find three gunmen who fled by car.
Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection.
The satirical weekly has courted controversy in the past with its irreverent take on news and current affairs. It was firebombed in November 2011 a day after it carried a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.
The latest tweet on Charlie Hebdo’s account was a cartoon of the Islamic State militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
US President Barack Obama has condemned the “horrific shooting”, offering to provide any assistance needed “to help bring these terrorists to justice”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “It was a horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime. It was also a direct assault on a cornerstone of democracy, on the media and on freedom of expression.”
Police are now hunting for three French nationals, including two brothers from the Paris region, Reuters cited sources as saying.
The three men being sought include two brothers aged 32 and 34 as well as a man aged 18 from the area of the northeastern city of Reims, according to the report.
One of the brothers is said to have previously been tried on terrorism charges.
– Contact us at [email protected]