Deadly gun attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo; at least 12 killed

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PARIS (January 7, 2015) — Hooded, black-clad gunmen burst into the office of a provocative French satirical magazine Wednesday, killing four cartoonists and eight others before heading off onto the streets of Paris.

While it wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the late morning attack, French officials viewed it as a blatant act of terrorism. And there were fears that things could get worse, with the assailants still on the loose.

“We need to find the actors of this terrorist act,” French President Francois Hollande said. “They must be arrested and brought before judges and condemned as quickly as possible. France is shocked today.”

Latest update at 11:55 a.m. ET

• Video posted to YouTube shows two men shooting on a Paris street, then walking up to and firing point-blank at a seemingly wounded man as he lay on the ground.

• U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attack part of a larger confrontation, not between civilizations, but between civilization itself and those opposed to civilization. Freedom “will never be eradicated by any act of terror,” he said, adding that such an attack will only “strengthen … our commitment to a civilized world.”

• Charlie Hebdo editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, known as “Charb,” is among the dead in the attack, a police spokesman in the district where the office is located told CNN. At least three other well-known cartoonists — known by the pen names Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous — were also killed.

• Police impounded a black Citroen in northeastern Paris similar to the one purportedly used by the attackers as a getaway car. Video from CNN affiliate BFMTV shows the vehicle being towed from Porte de Pantin, in Paris’ 19th district.

• Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that all means are being used to “ensure as quickly as possible we can identify the (three attackers) and (arrest them), so that they can be punished with the severity that their barbarous acts are worthy of.”

• In addition to the 12 dead, eight people were wounded, including four in critical condition, Cazeneuve said.

Witness: Men armed with submachine guns

These developments come after heavily armed men entered the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris’ 11th district, close to Place de la Bastille, and opened fire, SPG police union spokesman Luc Poignant told CNN affiliate BFMTV.

A witness who works in the office opposite the magazine’s told BFMTV that he saw two hooded men, dressed in black, enter the building with Kalashnikov submachine guns.

“We then heard them open fire inside, with many shots,” he told the channel. “We were all evacuated to the roof. After several minutes, the men fled, after having continued firing in the middle of the street.”

Witnesses also spoke of seeing a rocket launcher, according to French media reports.

A video taken by a journalist for the Premieres Lignes agency shows the gunmen shouting “God is great!” as they began the attack, Le Monde reported. They also cried, “We have avenged the Prophet!”

Two police officers were also among the dead, the law enforcement source said, according to Le Monde.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls raised France’s security to its highest level — “attack alert” — after the Charlie Hebdo bloodshed. That means there will be reinforced security at media company offices, major stores, religious centers and on public transport, Valls’ office said in a statement.

All available forces have been mobilized, with civil and military reinforcements as part of this plan. In addition, regional authorities have been instructed to step up their vigilance.

U.S. counterterrorism agencies are looking at a number of groups, including ISIS and al Qaeda, that might be responsible for the attack. Charlie Hebdo has been singled out as a target for Islamist extremists in al Qaeda’s publication, Inspire.

Satirical magazine has drawn anger

Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy for having lampooned a variety of subjects, including Christianity. But what it’s done on Islam has gotten the most attention and garnered the most vitriol.

Its last tweet before Wednesday’s attack featured a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the words, “And, above all, health.”

Earlier cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed — depictions that are deplored by Muslims — spurred protests and the burning of the magazine’s office three years ago.

In November 2011, Charlie Hebdo’s office caught fire the day it was due to publish a cover making fun of Islamic law.

A year later, in an interview with Le Monde newspaper, Charbonnier gave little indication that he planned to change Charlie Hebdo’s ways.

“It may sound pompous,” he said, “but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

His death, and those of seven others, spurred a wave of support for the publication and its practices around France and the world.

This was evident on social media, where a trend emerged of people tweeting past covers from the magazine as well as the words “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.” Rallies were also planned for Wednesday evening, including one set for Paris’ Place de la Republique.

The latest attack spurred Hollande, the French President, to vow that “no barbarous act will ever extinguish freedom of the press.”

“We knew that we were threatened like other countries in the world,” the President added later. “We are threatened because we are a country of freedom.”

World leaders condemn attack, support France

The bloodshed rattled not only France, but much of the world.

It heightened concerns about security in many places like New York, which — even without any known specific threat — added officers at sensitive sites around the city, including the French Consulate, in response to the attack, a law enforcement official told CNN.

Even more common were expressions of sympathy and solidarity, along the lines of European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans’ sentiment that the incident marked “an attack on all of us, on our fundamental values, on the freedoms our #EU societies are built upon.”

Others around the continent echoed this view, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who took to Twitter to call “the murders in Paris … sickening.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack “horrendous … unjustified and cold blooded crimes.” It was an attempt to divide, he said, adding that “we must not fall into that trap.”

France also got backing from the head of NATO, the military alliance it belongs to, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg blasting what he called “a barbaric act and an outrageous attack on press freedom.”

U.S. President Barack Obama similarly condemned the attack, saying he’s directed his government “to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice” in support of “America’s oldest ally.”

“Time and again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended,” Obama 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.”

CNN’s Jim Bittermann reported from Paris, and Greg Botelho and Ben Brumfield from Atlanta. CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Jason Hanna and Pierre Meilhan contributed to this report.

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