PARIS: Hooded gunmen stormed the Paris offices of a weekly satirical magazine known for lampooning Islam, shooting dead at least 12 people, including two police officers, in the worst militant attack on French soil in decades.
One of the assailants walked over to a police officer lying wounded on the street and shot him point-blank with an assault rifle, before the two calmly climbed into a black car and drove off. A police union official said the assailants – Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there were three in total – remained at liberty and there were fears of further attacks. The official described the scene in the offices as carnage. The government declared the highest state of alert, increasing security at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and department stores as the search for the assailants got under way.
Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is well known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders and has published numerous anti-Islamic blasphemous caricatures. Militants online have repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its ridicule. The last tweet on its account mocked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State, which has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria and called for “lone wolf” attacks on French soil.
While there was no claim of responsibility, supporters of Islamic State and other such groups hailed the attack on Internet sites, citing anti-Islamic blasphemous cartoons as the reason. Governments throughout Europe have expressed fear that fighters returning from Iraq or Syria could launch attacks in their home countries and may now review their own security. President Francois Hollande, who will address the nation on television at 8:00 pm, rushed to the scene of what appeared to be a carefully-planned attack. Sirens could be heard across the city.
“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.” An amateur video broadcast by French television stations shows two hooded men all in black outside the building. One of them spots a wounded policeman lying on the ground, hurries over to him and shoots him dead at point-blank range with a rifle. The two then walk over to a black saloon car. One casually picks up a shoe left on the ground, and then they drive off.
In another clip on television station iTELE, the men are heard shouting in French: “We have killed Charlie Hebdo. We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the assailants killed a man at the entrance of the building to force entry. They then headed to the second floor and opened fire on an editorial meeting attended by eight journalists, a policeman tasked with protecting the magazine’s editorial director and a guest. A witness quoted by 20 Minutes daily newspaper said one of the assailants cried out before getting into his car: “Tell the media that it is al Qaeda in Yemen!”
Three firefights ensued, the first with a patrol car responding to initial emergency calls, the second with two policemen on bicycles and a third with another patrol car. The gunmen fled eastwards by car towards the Paris suburbs. There they hit another car and were forced to abandon their vehicle in a residential area, Molins said. They then hijacked another car before disappearing.