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Manhunt for Paris shooting suspects continues (LIVE BLOG)

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GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: MANHUNT FOR SUSPECTS IN PARIS SHOOTING

UPDATE: 01/08/15 6:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is closed for the evening. Check out our international newswires or follow GlobalPost on Twitter for the latest news.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 5:08 PM ET

Rallies and vigils across Europe

Demonstrators across Europe are gathering tonight in support of free speech and to honor the 12 people slain yesterday by gunmen in Paris. GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Paul Ames attended a solidarity gathering of media in Lisbon, Portugal tonight. Here's an image he took:


For more on this story follow Paul on Twitter @p1ames.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 4:13 PM ET

Guardian Media Group, Google pledge to help keep Charlie Hebdo running

UPDATE: 01/08/15 3:47 PM ET

Eiffel Tower goes dark

UPDATE: 01/08/15 3:35 PM ET

Obama briefed on security issues after Paris attack

Reuters — President Barack Obama's national security advisors on Thursday gave him an update on the Paris shootings and a review of the security issues facing Americans in the United States and around the world, the White House said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One that US officials have said there is no indication of a specific threat to Americans related to the Paris shootings.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 3:09 PM ET

Classmates defend one of the suspects

Friends and classmates of 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd — one of the suspects — are claiming that he was in school when the attack happened, Mashable reports:

By Wednesday evening, several people who identified themselves as Hamyd's classmates went on Twitter, saying they saw Hamyd in class at the time of the shooting. It's unclear what role, if any, Hamyd is suspected to have played in the attack as police haven't released any information beyond his name.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 1:10 PM ET

To publish or not to publish Charlie Hebdo's cartoons?

GlobalPost's Corinne Purtill reports from London, UK:

To publish, or not to publish? It’s a dilemma news editors around the world have grappled with since the killing Wednesday of 12 journalists and police officers at the Paris office of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The images in question are the paper’s cartoons mocking Islamic fundamentalists, some of which depict the Prophet Muhammad. While headlines screamed unequivocal condemnation of the attacks, some newspapers distanced themselves from the cartoons themselves.

British newspapers the day after the killing of journalists and police in an attack on Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper in Paris.

Outlets including CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post have declined to publish the images directly, preferring to describe their content instead.

The website of the Telegraph, a UK newspaper, ran a photograph of Charlie Hebdo with its cover heavily pixelated. The image later disappeared from the site. It was replaced by one of Stephane Charbonnier, the satirical paper’s editor killed in Wednesday’s attack. But the image was cropped so as to obscure the controversial cartoon in his hand.

The New York Daily News ran a similar photograph in 2012 of Charbonnier holding a copy of his paper. Editors there chose to pixelate the cartoon depiction of Muhammad on the front cover, but not the caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man standing next to him.

Read Purtill's piece here.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 1:07 PM ET

The French Interior Minister's comments

UPDATE: 01/08/15 1:02 PM ET

A Charlie Hebdo columnist describes the aftermath

Agence France-Presse — An emotional Charlie Hebdo columnist on Thursday described the horrific scene that greeted him after his colleagues were shot dead at the French satirical newspaper's office and said "I couldn't save them."

Patrick Pelloux would normally have been at the editorial meeting that was the main scene of the attack that left 12 dead. However on Wednesday, in his other job as head of the emergency room doctors' association in France, he was attending a meeting elsewhere in Paris to improve links between the different emergency services.

"I was at this meeting when Jean Luc, the graphic artist (of Charlie Hebdo) called me to tell me: You have to come here quickly, they have shot at us with a Kalashnikov," Pelloux told AFP in a phone interview. "I thought it was a joke, but it wasn't. When I arrived it was dreadful," he said, choking with emotion.

Pelloux arrived at the offices three minutes after the attack with a high-ranking fire department official, who Pelloux said acted "heroically" as he triggered the emergency response.

"And as we were taking care of the victims, they (the attackers), were still on the streets killing people," Pelloux said.

'We are all suffering'

Five of France's best-known cartoonists were killed in the attack. Charlie Hebdo's 47-year-old editor-in-chief, Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, who was also one of its cartoonists, was murdered along with the police bodyguard assigned to him following death threats after the paper had published cartoons mocking Islam.

Four other cartoonists — Jean "Cabu" Cabut, 76; Georges Wolinski, 80; Bernard "Tignous" Verlhac, 57; and Philippe Honore, 73 — were also slain, as were three other employees, including a well-known economist, Bernard Maris. Pelloux described the bloody scene in the editorial meeting room.

"I think he (Charb) must have got up to insult them, or to make an obscene gesture at them or to take away their weapons. In the position that he died his body was twisted in his chair, it was as if he was shot as he was getting up. And I know him well, he was like my brother, and I know that he would have done that to them."

Among those injured in the shootings were Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau, also a cartoonist in addition to being news editor, and journalists Philippe Lancon and Fabrice Nicolino.

According to Pelloux, they were said to be doing better on Thursday. In a separate interview on the iTele channel, Pelloux said he had called French President Francois Hollande just after the attack.

"He said 'I'm on my way.' The president wanted to speak to us when he saw that the newspaper was in difficulty this summer," Pelloux said. "We had gone to see him. The president wanted to change the laws so that these newspapers could continue to exist."

The Charlie Hebdo columnist said despite the killing of the paper's top staff, he was "optimistic" after seeing the solidarity expressed in the wake of the attacks by both heads of state and ordinary people who had taken to the streets.

"The two things that will scare away fundamentalism are culture and freedom of the press. It's democratic countries that must keep these things alive," he said.

He confirmed that Charlie Hebdo will be published as usual next Wednesday. "It's very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win," said Pelloux.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 12:26 PM ET

Charlie Hebdo copies draw astronomical prices online

Agence France-Presse — Within hours of a terrorist attack that decimated the staff at Charlie Hebdo, copies of the latest issue of the satirical French weekly were drawing bids of more than 70,000 euros ($82,400) online.

The 60,000 print run of issue number 1177 sold out nearly instantly following the assault on the magazine's headquarters that killed 12 people, including some of its top journalists.

By midday Wednesday, scores of the three-euro magazine bearing a cartoon likeness of controversial French author Michel Houellebecq on its cover were popping up online at astronomical prices. Charlie Hebdo has already announced it will be back next week with a one million-copy memorial edition in response to the global outrage over the massacre.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 11:15 AM ET

The manhunt continues

UPDATE: 01/08/15 10:41 AM ET

On gun regulations in France

The Christian Science Monitor correspondent Colette Davidson looked into gun control laws in France. Davidson writes

For every legal firearm in France, for example, there are nearly two illegal ones, experts say. While the exact number is not known, estimates run to 10 to 20 million illegal weapons in circulation in France’s population of 65 million.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 10:18 AM ET

Memorials for slain Charlie Hebdo journalists

People are sharing photographs of various memorials in France for the staff who were killed in the assault on Charlie Hebdo headquarters yesterday — here are a couple of images:

 

Memorial near offices of #CharlieHebdo. Rainy, miserable day in #Paris. #jesuischarlie

A photo posted by @jacobstapp on

UPDATE: 01/08/15 10:02 AM ET

'Second worst attack'

The killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists is the "second worst attack on media," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists:

UPDATE: 01/08/15 9:18 AM ET

French mosque attacks

Several French mosques have been targeted following the shooting at Charlie Hebdo offices yesterday — this Agence France-Presse graphic shows where the attacks occurred:

UPDATE: 01/08/15 9:18 AM ET

Concerns over Islamophobia in France

"Many said the incident, the bloodiest in 50 years in France, will feed an already simmering sentiment against Muslims in France," Al Jazeera's Hakeem Muhammad writes. "Indeed French media reported a number of apparent reprisal incidents directed against Muslim-owned businesses and mosques after the Charlie Hebdo shootings." 

UPDATE: 01/08/15 8:54 AM ET

Implications of the attack 

Agence France-Presse's live video report on some of the consequences of yesterday's fatal attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, including footage of where the suspects have reportedly been spotted:

UPDATE: 01/08/15 8:46 AM ET

Possible sighting of 2 suspects

NBC is reporting that French authorities have swooped down on a town near Paris "after a possible sighting of two suspects wanted in connection with the Charlie Hebdo massacre." Details here.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 8:24 AM ET

Free speech groups call on media to publish Charlie Hebdo cartoons

UPDATE: 01/08/15 8:15 AM ET

Charlie Hebdo to publish next week

Agence France-Presse — The French satirical newspaper whose staff was decimated in an Islamist attack will publish as scheduled next week, one of its surviving staff members told AFP on Thursday.

Charlie Hebdo will publish next Wednesday to defiantly show that "stupidity will not win," said columnist Patrick Pelloux, who is also an emergency room doctor.

He added that the remaining staff held a meeting on Thursday to discuss its future. "It's very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win," said Pelloux.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 6:35 AM ET

French PM says multiple arrests have been made

Prime Minister Manuel Vals told a French radio station that authorities have detained "several" people in connection with the Charlie Hebdo shootings. The prime minister did not elaborate on what role those people may have played, but none of them appear to be involved in the actual shooting. The prime minister added that the primary concern of officials right now was to prevent another attack.

Another attack, however, did happen. But authorities are not yet sure if it's related to Wednesday's shootings. Thursday morning two police officers were shot, and one of them was killed, in a southern suburb of Paris. The gunman escaped.

UPDATE: 01/08/15 3:15 AM ET

A suspect gives himself up to police

A spokesman for the Paris prosecutor's office told the media early Thursday morning that one of the three suspects in the shooting has turned himself in to police. The suspect was identified as Hamyd Mourad, 18, the youngest of the three.

The other two suspects, Said and Cherif Kouachi, 34 and 32 — who are brothers — remained at large as Paris police continue their massive, citywide manhunt.

Mourad surrendered at a police station in Charleville-Mezieres, a town that is almost 150 miles away from Paris.

Read more on The New York Times.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 8:54 PM ET

A frantic manhunt in Reims

Agence France-Presse — French anti-terror police launched a late-night raid in a northeastern city Wednesday in a frantic manhunt for masked gunmen who killed 12 people at a satirical weekly in Paris, sparking global outrage.

Local television showed black-clad sharpshooters from the elite police unit in the streets of Reims, in France's Champagne region, as unconfirmed media reports named three suspects in the attack, including two brothers.

Several thousand police were deployed to find the gunmen and parts of the French capital were in lockdown as the killers remained on the loose.

In a somber televised address, President Francois Hollande declared a day of national mourning on Thursday — only the fifth in the past 50 years — after the worst attack on French soil in decades.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 5:34 PM ET

A haunting detail from Paris' deputy mayor

UPDATE: 01/07/15 5:10 PM ET

Russia wades into the Paris attack — for no real reason

GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports:

With its own homegrown Islamist insurgency in the volatile North Caucasus region, Russia is no stranger to brazen terrorist attacks.

But while President Vladimir Putin promptly offered his condolences to those affected by Wednesday’s shooting in Paris, other officials and commentators in Russia were quick to point out it actually has nothing to do with Russia.

“The tragedy in Paris shows that it’s not Russia threatening Europe and its safety. This is a bluff,” Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter. “The real threat comes from adherents of terror. That’s a fact.”

Officials in Moscow have resented the United States and much of Europe for months over those countries’ criticism of the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy.

The US and EU governments slapped several rounds of sanctions on the Kremlin after it annexed Crimea last March and stirred up an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine shortly after.

But that has only boosted Russian defiance and stoked anti-Western sentiments, thanks mostly to state-controlled media.

Nowadays, Russians have grown used to catching what seems like unending flak from the West. That’s why many Kremlin loyalists also searching for opportunities to criticize it — and the Paris attack appeared to be no exception for some.

Igor Korotchenko, a defense analyst and prominent pro-government commentator, said the shooting represented a failure of the French security services — as well as Europe’s allegedly bad attitude toward its international partners.

“To a certain extent, if Europe will continue to engage in self-isolation and not work with Russia and the security services of other countries, it jeopardizes its own safety,” he told the pro-Kremlin tabloid LifeNews.

Russia has also experienced its own share of controversy over the offense of religious sensibilities — though in a different, more politically charged form.

Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 was marked with the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and its promotion of conservative values.

Russia’s liberal minority was outraged when authorities jailed members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot over a raucous performance in Moscow’s main church.

That move was part of the official onslaught against the country’s political opposition, which has now been all but crushed, but elements of the debate are still relevant today.

Georgy Mirsky, a prominent Russian expert on the Middle East, harshly condemned the attack. But he also believes caricatures of Muhammad have no place in the free press.

“There are certain things you cannot touch,” he wrote in a blog for the Echo of Moscow radio station.

Pointing out that the Muslim population in Europe is growing, Mirsky added: “If both sides argue, ‘So why should we limit ourselves if there is freedom of speech,’ then the prospects for coexistence will look very pale.”

UPDATE: 01/07/15 4:37 PM ET

Suspects reportedly arrested

The Guardian is reporting that three suspects have been arrested. More here.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 4:32 PM ET

Newspaper front pages

UPDATE: 01/07/15 4:19 PM ET

Hollande appeals for unity as Charlie Hebdo attack stokes French fears

GlobalPost's Paul Ames reports from Lisbon, Portugal:

The terror attack that killed 12 people in Paris on Wednesday will have come as little surprise to Europe's police and intelligence services. For months, they've regarded the prospect of a mass killing in Europe by isolated gunmen or small groups of Islamist terrorists as a question of when rather than if.

France has been a particular target. Officials there say hundreds of French Muslims who are believed to have gained military experience fighting with radical groups in Syria and Iraq.

Calls from radicals to attack civilians in France have multiplied following French military action against Islamist militants in West Africa and the participation of French warplanes in US-led airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq.

Read the rest here

UPDATE: 1/7/14 4:06 PM ET

Paris gunmen identified

French police have now identified the gunmen responsible for carrying out the attack, according to France's Metro newspaper. Police have not yet released the names of the alleged attackers, aged 18, 34, and 32. Two are reportedly brothers and French nationals. The nationality of the other suspect, who is reportedly homeless, is unclear.

The Associated Press has reported that one gunman was arrested, according to French prosecutors.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 2:47 PM ET

This is how cartoonists are showing their solidarity with Charlie Hebdo victims

GlobalPost contributor Hyacinth Mascarenhas reports:

Speaking to ABC news in 2012, Stephane Charbonnier, the director of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, said, "We can’t live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat."

Charbonnier — one of the 12 people killed in an attack on the magazine's offices in Paris on Wednesday — made his fierce statements not long after a firebomb attack on the publication in 2012 destroyed their offices.

Cartoonists have been sharing powerful messages and illustrations on social media platforms all day. Have a look at them here.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 2:26 PM ET

French president calls for day of mourning

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday will be a day of mourning in the country following the deadly attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, Agence France-Presse reports.

"Our greatest strength is our unity," Hollande said. 

UPDATE: 01/07/15 1:24 PM ET

Crowds gather at a vigil for the victims

UPDATE: 01/07/15 12:55 PM ET

French media groups offer to help keep Charlie Hebdo going

English translation of the statement:

In face of the horror, the groups Radio France, Le Monde and France Television announce that they are making available to Charlie Hebdo and its team the human and material means necessary to enable Charlie Hebdo to continue to live.

The three groups invite all French media mobilized since this morning to gather together to preserve the principals of independence and liberty of thought and expression, guarantors of our democracy.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 12:15 PM ET

Obama to make statement on Paris shooting

Watch it on NBC News:

UPDATE: 01/07/15 11:56 AM ET

UN chief condemns 'horrendous' Paris attack

Agence France-Presse — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday condemned the "horrendous" attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, branding it an assault on the media and freedom of expression.

"It was a horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime. It was also a direct assault on a cornerstone of democracy, on the media and on freedom of expression," Ban told reporters at UN headquarters. 

"We stand with the people and the government of France," said Ban, who offered condolences to the families of the victims. "This horrific attack is meant to divide. We must not fall into that trap," he added.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 11:50 AM ET

Protest at Place de la République

People are beginning to congregate at the Place de la République in Paris to protest the killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists.

Here are some of the pictures being shared on social media:

UPDATE: 01/07/15 11:15 AM ET

Merkel condemns Charlie Hebdo shooting as 'heinous act'

GlobalPost's Jason Overdorf reports from Berlin, Germany:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack on the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as a "heinous act" in a telegram of condolence to French President Francois Hollande shortly after the incident.

"This horrible act is not only an attack on the lives of French citizens and the domestic security of France," Merkel said in the telegram, according to The New York Times.

"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."

The telegram offered her "personal compassion and sincere condolences to the families of the victims," the paper reported.

Similarly, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker decried the shooting as a "brutal and inhuman act," while German President Joachim Gauck said, "There is nothing that can justify such a crime," according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung

Apparently inspired by the magazine's sympathetic treatment of a novel by Michel Houellebecq that has been criticized as Islamophobic, the Paris attack comes amid growing protests by a right-wing German group calling itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamicization of the West, or PEGIDA.

In Germany, however, Merkel and other prominent politicians, as well as church organizations and large corporations, have repeatedly spoken out against Islamophobia and the anti-immigration spirit of the rallies while upholding their freedom of expression, and thousands of protesters have joined counter-protests across the country — perhaps helping to prevent an escalation into violence.

On Tuesday, Germany's largest-selling newspaper, The Bild, ran an open letter signed by 50 prominent Germans calling for an end to rising xenophobia, while in her New Year's speech Merkel asked citizens to shun demonstrations that she decried as racist, the Guardian reported

German reactions on social media suggest that the French shooting may bulwark the PEGIDA movement, which has attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators across Germany for several weeks.

"No, dear Pegida hater, there are no problems with Islam," a user with the handle @AdamMontana84 tweeted with a link to a story on the incident.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 11:07 AM ET

Inside Charlie Hebdo: The Paris attack targeted paper that mocked fundamentalists

GlobalPost's Paul Ames reports from Lisbon, Portugal:

"This might sound a bit pompous, but I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees."

The words came from Stephane Charbonnier, aka Charb, cartoonist and director of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in 2012 after a firebomb attack on the paper's Paris office.

On Wednesday Charb was among 12 people killed during a terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo by masked gunmen crying "God is Great" in Arabic as they gunned down journalists, cartoonists and police officers.

Charlie Hebdo had been a target since 2006 when it published caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad that originally appeared in a Danish newspaper.

Despite repeated threats, the paper had refused to shy away from controversy. Islamist radicals were among the favorite targets of its biting, sometimes crude, satire — along with French politicians, religious leaders of all denominations and celebrities from Michael Jackson to anti-Semitic comic Dieudonee M'bala Mbala.

This week's cover lampooned French novelist Michel Houellebecq, whose latest book has triggered a raging controversy by portraying a France in 2022 run by a Muslim leader who imposes seeks to turn Europe into an Islamist empire. Charb was among several well-known figures slain in Wednesday attack on the paper.

Chillingly he published a cartoon in this week's edition showing a bearded terrorist under the title "Still no attacks in France." The figure replies: "Wait, we have until the end of January to present our best wishes."

The gunman were apparently aware that the paper's journalists and cartoonists gather for their weekly editorial meeting on Wednesday mornings and the newsroom was packed.

Continue reading the story here.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 11:00 AM ET

A harrowing eyewitness account

UPDATE: 01/07/15 10:46 AM ET

The car explosion in Paris was 'not an attack'

According to Metro News, local mayor François Pupponi says that the car fire on front of a synagogue in Paris was "accidental."

"It's accidental, it's not an attack," the mayor told Metro News. "A man was driving inside when the car caught fire."

UPDATE: 01/07/15 10:16 AM ET

'An attack against a major part of our democracy,' Paris Mosque rector says

The rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, reacted on Europe 1, as reported in Le Figaro:

"It’s a declaration of fractious war. Times have changed. We’re entering a new period in this confrontation." He added, "We are horrified by the brutality and savagery at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo."

"We absolutely condemn this type of act and we expect the most just measures from the authorities. The community is dumb-founded by what just happened. It's an attack against a major part of our democracy."

UPDATE: 01/07/15 9:52 AM ET

Car explosion in Paris

Reports are emerging of a car explosion in front of a synagogue in Paris:

Business Insider has more details.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 9:43 AM ET

Italy anti-terrorist experts to meet after France attack: ministry

Reuters — Italy's Interior Ministry on Wednesday called a meeting of experts to analyze militant threats after gunmen stormed the Paris offices of a weekly satirical magazine renowned for lampooning radical Islam and killed at least 12 people.

The so-called Strategic Anti-terrorism Analysis Committee, made up of experts from Italy's police forces and intelligence services, will meet this afternoon "to examine with great attention the terrorist threat in light of the very grave attack in Paris today," the ministry said in a statement.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 9:27 AM ET

#JeSuisCharlie

To show solidarity with the victims of the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters and to stand up for freedom of expression, people are using the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag on Twitter, which translates to "I am Charlie."

UPDATE: 01/07/15 9:23 AM ET

3 gunmen reportedly carried out the attack

Via The Associated Press:

UPDATE: 01/07/15 9:12 AM ET

Where the shooting took place

UPDATE: 01/07/15 8:55 AM ET

White House condemns attack

Agence France-Presse — The United States said it condemned Wednesday's deadly shooting attack on a French satirical newspaper in the "strongest possible terms."

"Everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were killed or injured in this attack," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, speaking on MSNBC.

"Senior officials at the White House have been in close touch with their counterparts in France this morning," he added. "The United States stand ready to work closely with the French" to help them probe the attack.

UPDATE: 01/07/15 8:47 AM ET

The victims

Officials say 12 people were killed in the attack. Chris York, social media editor at Huffington Post UK, shared these photos of some of the cartoonists who lost their lives:

UPDATE: 01/07/15 8:33 AM ET

Gunmen reportedly flee

Search to find the perpetrators is currently underway, France 24 reports:

UPDATE: 01/07/15 8:19 AM ET

Hollande to address the nation 

French President Francois Hollande has called an emergency government meeting in the Élysée Palace, Le Figaro reports:

He has canceled all appointments and will address the nation this evening.

"This is an attack of exceptional barbarity against a newspaper, that means against the freedom of the press," Hollande said. "France is today in shock ... we will respond as a bloc, we will show we are united." 

The Council of French Muslims has denounced the shooting, calling it a "barbaric attack."

UPDATE: 01/07/15 8:00 AM ET

Deadly shooting at Charlie Hebdo HQ

Reuters — Black-hooded gunmen shot dead 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a publication firebombed in the past after publishing cartoons lampooning Muslim leaders and the Prophet Muhammad, police said.

President Francois Hollande headed to the scene of the attack and the government said it was raising France's security level to the highest notch.

"This is a terrorist attack, there is no doubt about it," Hollande told reporters.

Another 10 people were injured in the incident and police union official Rocco Contento described the scene inside the offices as "carnage."

"About a half an hour ago two black-hooded men entered the building with Kalashnikovs (rifles)," witness Benoit Bringer told the TV station. "A few minutes later we heard lots of shots," he said, adding that the men were then seen fleeing the building.

France is already on high alert after calls last year from Islamist militants to attack its citizens and interests in reprisal for French military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa.

British Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack as sickening.

A purported video of the attack filmed on a cellphone showed two masked men shouting "Allahu Akhbar" as they fired their weapons. French news agency Agence France Presse, citing a police source, reported that one of the attackers shouted "we have avenged the Prophet." 

Witnesses reported chaotic scenes at the building in the aftermath of the attack, with injured victims being rushed away. 

Later, French newspaper La Parisien reported that two of the magazine's cartoonists were among the dead.

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