Jewish caricaturist Georges Wolinski was among the 12 victims of an attack Wednesday on the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.
The assailants cried out “Allah is the greatest” in Arabic and that their attack was to “avenge the prophet,” the French daily Le Monde reported. They reportedly fled in a hijacked car, running over a pedestrian and shooting at officers.
Charlie Hebdo, which regularly runs articles and caricatures critical of religion, has published a series of satirical cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
The editor-in-chief of the paper, Stephane Charbonnier, was killed in the attack, the daily Le Figaro reported.
Two of the reported fatalities were police officers, according to Le Monde.
Wolinski, 80, a Tunisia native who moved to France as a teenager, also was a cartoonist at the magazine and was known for his cynical and at times vulgar style. After entering journalism in the 1960s, he went on to work at leading French publications such as L’Humanite, Le Nouvel Observateur and Paris Match.
One of Wolinski’s cartoons, published in a 2002 compilation of his works, shows a Muslim girl walking with her mother down a war-ravaged street in the Middle East. The daughter asks what it means to be a free woman. The mother replies by presenting her daughter with a copy of a book titled “Hello Sadness.”
“It’s clear that this was a planned attack against Wolinski and the other cartoon artists,” said Richard Kenigsman, a well-known Jewish caricaturist and painter from Brussels. He cited an attack and multiple threats against Charlie Hebdo since 2006 for publishing caricatures deemed offensive to Islam.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking live near the scene of the shooting, said it was a terrorist attack, adding that “France is today in shock.”
Charlie Hebdo, he added, “was threatened several times in the past and we need to show we are a united country.” He also vowed that French authorities “will punish the attackers. We will look for the people responsible.”
In a statement, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor called the attack part of “the beginning of a wave of terror on the streets of Europe” and “a war against freedom of speech and the European way of life which has already seen Jewish children gunned down at school and people murdered in cold blood while visiting a museum in Brussels.”
Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, said in a statement that “France must wake up to the danger of Islamism and the terror it brings all over the world: In Paris, Toulouse, Sarcelles, Brussels, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, jihadists are acting on the same radical Islamist ideology that is used to manipulate them.”
According to Le Monde, the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices is the bloodiest to have taken place in France since 1835.
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.
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.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.