Masked gunmen today stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people including the editor, a cartoonist and two police officers, then fled in a waiting car. "This is the darkest day of the history of the French press," said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders. Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011 over a spoof issue that featured a caricature of Islam's prophet Muhammad, and the editor killed — pen name Charb — was already under police protection due to threats. Media accounts quote a police source saying the attackers shouted: “We have avenged the prophet!” and “Allah Akbar.”
AP reports that the Islamic State group has repeatedly threatened to attack France, and that the weekly publication has a history of eliciting outrage among Muslims with crude cartoons of Islam's holiest figure. "Just minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of that extremist group's leader giving New Year's wishes. Another cartoon, released in this week's issue and 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.'"
With a manhunt on, French President Francois Hollande called the attack on the Charlie Hebdo weekly, whose caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed have frequently drawn condemnation from Muslims, "a terrorist attack without a doubt." He said several other attacks have been thwarted in France "in recent weeks."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation. Top government officials were holding an emergency meeting and Hollande planned a nationally televised address in the evening. Schools across the French capital closed their doors.
World leaders including President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack, but supporters of the militant Islamic State group celebrated the slayings as well-deserved revenge against France.
The car has been found abandoned
Statement from President Obama:
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and the people of France at this difficult time," the statement reads. "France is America’s oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world. Time and again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended. France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers. We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my Administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice."