Terror Attack on Paris Newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, Kills 12
PARIS — At least two masked gunmen on Wednesday burst into the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper that had drawn threats for lampooning Islam, killing 12 people in a methodical hail of gunfire, fleeing by car as they battled on the street with the police and setting off a wide manhunt for the killers.
There were unconfirmed news reports late Wednesday that the police had identified three suspects including two brothers who were born in Paris. An earlier unconfirmed report on the website of the Libération newspaper that the suspects had been arrested was denied by the Interior Ministry, Libération said.
The terrorist attack, on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, was among the deadliest in postwar France, setting the nation on edge, sending shock waves through Europe and threatening to deepen the distrust of France’s large Muslim population. The attack came at a time when Islamic radicalism has become a central concern of security officials across Europe.
The attack, carried out with automatic weapons, was carried out with an unusual degree of military-style precision. President François Hollande of France called it a display of extraordinary “barbarism” that was “without a doubt” an act of terrorism. He declared Thursday a national day of mourning.
He also raised the nationwide terror alert to its highest status, saying several terrorist attacks had been thwarted in recent weeks as security officials here and elsewhere in Europe have grown increasingly wary of the return of young citizens from Syria and Iraq, where they went to wage jihad.
The French authorities put some schools on lockdown for the day, and added security at houses of worship, news media offices and transportation centers, and conducted random searches on the Paris Metro.
The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said witnesses said the attackers had screamed “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great” during the attack, which the police characterized as a “slaughter.”
Corinne Rey, a cartoonist known as Coco, who was at the newspaper office during the attack, told Le Monde that the attackers spoke fluent French and had said they were part of Al Qaeda.
An amateur video of the assailants’ subsequent gunfight with the police, showed the men shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo!” The video, the source of which could not be verified, also showed the gunmen killing a police officer as he lay wounded on a nearby street.
The victims at Charlie Hebdo included some of the country’s most revered and iconoclastic cartoonists. The weekly’s editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, had already been received light police protection after earlier threats, the police and the prosecutor said. An officer assigned to guard the newspaper’s offices and its top editor was among the victims.
As news of the attack spread, an outpouring of grief mixed with expressions of dismay and demonstrations of solidarity for free speech.
By the evening, not far from the site of the attack in the east of Paris, an estimated 35,000 gathered at Place de La République — young and old, and various classes — some chanting, “Charlie! Charlie!” or holding signs reading, “I am Charlie” — the message posted on the newspaper’s website.
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Spontaneous vigils of hundreds and thousands formed in other cities around France and elsewhere in Europe.
Mr. Molin, the prosecutor, said that two men armed with AK-47 rifles and wearing black hoods, had forced their way into the weekly’s offices about 11:30 a.m., firing at people in the lobby, before making their way to the newsroom on the second floor, interrupting a news meeting and firing at the assembled journalists.
The attackers then fled outside, where they clashed three times with the police, shooting one officer as he lay on the ground on a nearby street. They then fled in a black Citroen, and headed north on the right bank of Paris. During their escape, prosecutors said, they crashed into another car and injured its female driver, before robbing and abducting a bystander.
The police said the precision with which the assailants handled their weapons suggested that they had received military training. During the attack, which the police said lasted a matter of minutes, several journalists hid under their desks or went to hide on the roof, witnesses said.
Meziani Zina, 32, who works at the reception of an employment center across from the building, said she heard several loud shots ringing from the weekly’s headquarters.
One journalist who was at the weekly during the attack and asked that her name not be used, texted a friend after the shooting: “I’m alive. There is death all around me. Yes, I am there. The jihadists spared me.”
Treasured by many, hated by some, and indiscriminate in its offensiveness, Charlie Hebdo has long reveled in provoking.
In 2011, the office of the weekly was badly damaged by a firebomb after it published a spoof issue “guest edited” by the Prophet Muhammad to salute the victory of an Islamist party in Tunisian elections. It had announced plans to publish a special issue renamed “Charia Hebdo,” a play on the word in French for Shariah law.
Police said the dead included four celebrated cartoonists at the weekly, including its Mr. Charbonnier, known as Charb, Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski and Bernard Verlhac.
Mr. Charbonnier stoked controversy and earned the ire of the Muslim community in 2006, when he republished satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. His last cartoon for Charlie Hebdo featured an armed man who appeared to be a Muslim fighter with a headline that read: “Still no attacks in France. Wait! We have until the end of January to give our best wishes.”
The police said that an abandoned black Citroen with silvered wing-mirrors, used by the gunmen, was later discovered in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.
A senior United States counterterrorism official said on Wednesday that the American authorities were following the developments in Paris closely, but that they had not yet identified any individuals or groups who might be responsible for the attack.
Michael J. Morell, the former deputy director of the C.I.A. and now a consultant to CBS News, said it was unclear whether the attackers acted on their own or were directed by organized groups.
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“This is the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the attacks in London in July of 2005,” Mr. Morell said. “The motive here is absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organization that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad. So, no doubt in my mind that this is terrorism.”
He added, “What we have to figure out here is the perpetrators and whether they were self-radicalized or whether they were individuals who fought in Syria and Iraq and came back, or whether they were actually directed by ISIS or Al Qaeda.”
Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, one of France’s largest, expressed horror at the assault on Charlie Hebdo. “We are shocked and surprised that something like this could happen in the center of Paris. But where are we?” he was quoted as saying by Europe1, a radio broadcaster.
“We strongly condemn these kinds of acts and we expect the authorities to take the most appropriate measures.” He added: “This is a deafening declaration of war. Times have changed, and we are now entering a new era of confrontation.”
The attack comes as thousands of Europeans have gone to join jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, further fueling concerns about Islamic radicalism and terrorism being imported. Those concerns have been particularly acute in France where fears have grown that militants are seeking to target French citizens in retaliation for the government’s support for the United States-led air campaign against jihadists with the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
Last month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls ordered hundreds of additional military personnel onto the streets to beef up security after a series of attacks across France raised alarm about Islamic terror.
In Dijon and Nantes, a total of 23 people were injured when men drove vehicles into crowds, with one of the drivers shouting an Islamic rallying cry. The authorities depicted both drivers as mentally unstable. The attacks came after violence attributed to lone-wolf attackers in London in 2013, in Canada in October and last month in Sydney, Australia.
In September, fighters in Algeria aligned with the Islamic State beheaded Hervé Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice, and released a video documenting the brutal killing. Mr. Gourdel was kidnapped after the Islamic State called on its supporters to target Europeans to avenge the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
President Obama issued a statement condemning the attack. “Time and again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended,” he said. “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.”
The former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, called the assault a “direct and savage attack against one of our most revered republican ideals: the freedom of expression.”
In a condolence letter addressed to President Holland, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany expressed condolences on behalf of the German people.
“This horrible act is not only an attack on the lives of French citizens and the domestic security of France,” Ms. Merkel said. “It also stands as an attack on the freedom of expression and the press, a core element of our free, democratic culture that can in no way be justified.”