PARIS (AFP) – Heavily armed gunmen shouting slogans stormed a Paris satirical newspaper office Wednesday and shot dead at least 12 people in the deadliest attack in France in four decades.
Police launched a massive manhunt for the masked attackers who reportedly hijacked a car and sped off, running over a pedestrian and shooting at officers.
Police said the attackers were armed with a Kalashnikov and rocket launcher.
Two police were confirmed among the dead and four people were critically injured.
Some of the best-known cartoonists were among the 12 killed, a judicial source said.
Editor-in-chief Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, and the cartoonists known as Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski were killed in the attack.
The capital was placed under the highest alert status after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly that has sparked anger in the past among Muslims for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Television footage showed large numbers of police in the area, bullet-riddled windows and people being carried away on stretchers.
The attack took place at a time of heightened fears in France and other European capitals over fallout from the wars in Iraq and Syria where hundreds of European citizens have gone to fight alongside the radical Islamic State group.
President Francois Hollande, who immediately rushed to the scene of the shooting, described it as a barbaric terrorist attack.
“An act of exceptional barbarism has just been committed here in Paris against a newspaper, meaning (against) the expression of liberty,” Hollande said at the scene.
Hollande called for “national unity”, adding that “several terrorist attacks had been foiled in recent weeks”.
The White House condemned the attack in the “strongest possible terms”, while British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “sickening”.
“We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press,” Cameron said in a message on Twitter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the “despicable” attack in a condolence letter to President Francois Hollande.
Merkel said “this repulsive act” was “not only an attack on the lives of French citizens and France’s national security, but also an attack on freedom of expression and the press – a key component of our free democratic culture – which cannot be justified,” she added.