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12 killed in attack at French newspaper that caricatured Mohammed

Shooters storm Paris headquarters of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which has stoked Islamist anger over its depictions of the Prophet

  • A victim is evacuated on a stretcher on January 7, 2015 after armed gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, leaving 12 people dead. (Photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU)
    A victim is evacuated on a stretcher on January 7, 2015 after armed gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, leaving 12 people dead. (Photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU)
  • Firefighters carry an injured man on a stretcher in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015 (photo credit: AFP/ PHILIPPE DUPEYRAT)
    Firefighters carry an injured man on a stretcher in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015 (photo credit: AFP/ PHILIPPE DUPEYRAT)
  • A bullet hole in the window of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving 11 people dead on January 7, 2015. (Photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU)
    A bullet hole in the window of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving 11 people dead on January 7, 2015. (Photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU)
  • Police officers and firefighters gather in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving 11 dead. (AFP/Philippe Dupeyrat)
    Police officers and firefighters gather in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving 11 dead. (AFP/Philippe Dupeyrat)
  • Firefighters and police officers gather in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving 11 dead.  (Photo credit: AFP/ PHILIPPE DUPEYRAT)
    Firefighters and police officers gather in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving 11 dead. (Photo credit: AFP/ PHILIPPE DUPEYRAT)
  • France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve (C, L) and Paris' Mayor Anne Hidalgo (C, R) arrive at the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving at least 11 people dead. (Photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU)
    France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve (C, L) and Paris' Mayor Anne Hidalgo (C, R) arrive at the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving at least 11 people dead. (Photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU)

Twelve people were killed when at least three gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris Wednesday and opened fire on employees with Kalashnikov rifles and RPGs.

The death toll was confirmed by Paris prosecutor’s spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre. A source cited by AFP said there were two police officers among the dead.

The shooters fled the scene, and may have taken a hostage with them, initial French reports said. Luc Poignant, an official of the SBP police union, said the attackers escaped in two vehicles.

The French government raised the security alert in the country to the highest level in the wake of the attack and reinforced security at houses of worship, stores, media offices and public transportation.

The editor-in-chief of the paper, Stephane Charbonnier, was killed in the attack, the daily Le Figaro reported.

In this Sept.19, 2012 file photo, Stephane Charbonnier also known as Charb , the publishing director of the satyric weekly Charlie Hebdo, displays the front page of the newspaper as he poses for photographers in Paris. Masked gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar!” stormed the Paris offices of the newspaper on Jan.7, 2015, killing 12 people including Charb, before escaping. It was France's deadliest terror attack in at least two decades. (photo credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
In this Sept.19, 2012 file photo, Stephane Charbonnier also known as Charb , the publishing director of the satyric weekly Charlie Hebdo, displays the front page of the newspaper as he poses for photographers in Paris. Masked gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar!” stormed the Paris offices of the newspaper on Jan.7, 2015, killing 12 people including Charb, before escaping. It was France’s deadliest terror attack in at least two decades. (photo credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

French President Francois Hollande confirmed that the shooting was a “terror attack without a doubt” and said that his country’s authorities had thwarted several attacks “in recent weeks.” Hollande rushed to the scene and top government officials planned an emergency meeting later Wednesday.

Video images on the website of public broadcaster France Televisions showed two gunmen in black at a crossroads who appeared to fire down one of the streets. A cry of “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great”— could be heard among the gunshots.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKgeglfWC9M

The extremist Islamic State group has threatened to attack France, and minutes before the attack Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of that extremist group’s leader giving New Year’s wishes. The cartoon entitled “Still No Attacks in France” had a caricature of an extremist fighter saying “Just wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.”

Charlie Hebdo has stirred controversy often over the years due to its biting depictions of Muslims and the prophet Muhammad.

Notably, in one of its September 2012 issues, the magazine’s cover depicted an elderly ultra-Orthodox Jew pushing a crippled Muslim man in a wheelchair with the caption “Intouchables 2,” an allusion to a French film.

In the inner pages of the magazine, caricatures featured Muhammad in a series of “daring positions,” according to a description in the French daily Le Figaro.

The cover of Charlie Hebdo's Thursday issue, depicting an ultra-Orthodox man pushing a wheelchair-bound Muslim
The cover of Charlie Hebdo’s Thursday issue, depicting an ultra-Orthodox man pushing a wheelchair-bound Muslim

According to Reuters, the cartoons included “nude caricatures” of the prophet.

Charlie Hebdo’s offices have been attacked in the wake of past controversies stirred by its publications.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an edition that featured the prophet Muhammad as a “guest editor.” The issue sparked widespread demonstrations, and the offices of the magazine were firebombed in what was widely assumed to be a revenge attack.

US President Barack Obama’s top spokesman said the United States was determined to help the French apprehend those responsible for the attack. Press secretary Josh Earnest said US officials were in close contact with the French government.

Earnest told CNN the French have been “stalwart allies” in the US fight against Islamic State extremists. The spokesman also said: “We know they are not going to be cowed by this terrible act.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the “sickening” attack. “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press,” he said in a message on Twitter.

Wednesday’s attack comes the same day of the release of a book by a celebrated French novelist depicting France’s election of its first Muslim president. Hollande had been due to meet with the country’s top religious officials later in the day.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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