Police are hunting three French nationals, including two brothers from the Paris region, after suspected Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at the Paris offices of the French paper Charlie Hebdo. EU leaders shocked by the shooting described it as an intolerable act of barbarism. EURACTIV France reports.
On Wednesday (7 January), the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo was the victim of the worst terrorist attack seen in France since the Saint Michel bombing in 1995.
Three gunmen armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket launchers attacked and killed two police officers who were surveying the building in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, before bursting into the paper’s weekly editorial meeting and shooting people at point-blank range.
They then left the scene shouting the name of Allah. The attack lasted ten minutes and the terrorists made their getaway in a stolen car.
The artists Charb, who was also the director of publication, Wolinski, Cabu and Tignous are among the dead. The economist Bernard Maris, a member of the General Council of the Bank of France, is also among the victims. Reports say that the terrorists did not shoot at the women who were present in the meeting, including Luce Lapin, specialist in animal protection and vegetarianism.
The satirical paper has received numerous threats from Islamic extremists since it published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006. In response to these threats, one of the victims, the journalist and artist Charb, published a section called “fatwa of the week”. The publication employs 30 regular journalists and freelancers and around twenty artists.
In November 2011, the offices of the weekly paper were destroyed in an arson attack. In 2013, a 24 year-old man was imprisoned for calling for the decapitation of the director of Charlie Hebdo following the publication of caricatures of Mohammed.
French politicians have called for national unity after what François Hollande described as “an act of exceptional barbarism”.
The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls immediately activated the highest-level security alert, Vigipirate. Schools will be protected as a priority, and their exits blocked. Investigators launched an appeal for witnesses on Wednesday afternoon after the attacks which left 12 dead in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, but the brigade in charge of the operation lost the trail of the terrorists.
Crisis meeting in the President’s office
The ministers Bernard Cazeneuve (Interior), Jean-Yves Le Drian (Defence), Christiane Taubira (Justice), Laurent Fabius (Foreign Affairs) and Fleur Pellerin (Culture and Communication), as well as the heads of the main police and gendarmerie services was called into a crisis meeting by the President.
Security was greatly increased around the presidential palace, where extra police officers have been deployed with bullet-proof vests and automatic weapons.
The National Union of Journalists has called for a rally on Wednesday evening at Place de la République, close to the site of the attack.