Three gunmen are on the run after launching a terror attack on a French satirical magazine which left 12 people dead.
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a manhunt is under way to trace the perpetrators of the raid at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, which angered some Muslims after publishing cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
Mr Cazeneuve said “all the means” of the justice and interior ministries have been mobilised to “neutralise the three criminals who have committed this barbaric act”.
He added that the operation will take place as quickly as possible in order to “identify the aggressors and arrest them in a way that they will be punished with the severity that corresponds to the barbaric act they have committed”.
The massacre this morning was France’s deadliest terror attack in at least two decades.
The masked gunmen, who later fled, were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” - God is greatest - as they stormed the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, shooting indiscriminately.
Video footage taken by terrified witnesses from windows and on rooftops overlooking the scene showed the terrorists shooting one of their victims, who appears to be in a police uniform, in cold blood at close range as he lay already injured on a pavement of the otherwise deserted Paris street. A bullet-ridden Police Nationale vehicle was left nearby.
Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard, who was in London at the time of the attack, spoke of his shock.
He told France Inter: “I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war.”
He said the magazine had not received threats of violence: “Not to my knowledge, and I don’t think anyone had received them as individuals, because they would have talked about it. There was no particular tension at the moment.”
Witnesses at the magazine headquarters described a scene of carnage, with bullet holes and smashed windows.
Survivor and Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Corinne “Coco” Rey was quoted by French newspaper L’Humanite as saying: “I had gone to collect my daughter from day care and as I arrived in front of the door of the paper’s building two hooded and armed men threatened us. They wanted to go inside, to go upstairs. I entered the code.
“They fired on Wolinski, Cabu ... it lasted five minutes ... I sheltered under a desk... They spoke perfect French... claimed to be from al Qaida.”
Gilles Boulanger, who works in the same building, likened the scene to a war zone.
“A neighbour called to warn me that there were armed men in the building and that we had to shut all the doors,” he said.
“And several minutes later there were several shots heard in the building from automatic weapons firing in all directions.
“So then we looked out of the window and saw the shooting was on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, with the police. It was really upsetting. You’d think it was a war zone.”
French president Francois Hollande said the terrorist attack had left France in a state of shock.
He said: “We are looking for the perpetrators of this crime.
“France is today in shock, in front of a terrorist attack.
“This newspaper was threatened several times in the past. We need to show that we are a united country. We have to be firm, we have to be strong.
“We are at a very difficult moment. Several terrorist attacks have been impeded during the previous weeks. We are threatened because we are a country of freedom.
“We fight threats and we will punish the attackers.”
Prime Minister David Cameron joined the condemnation, saying: “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”
Charlie Hebdo has launched a series of attacks on Muslim extremism and the last tweet on its profile page @Charlie_Hebdo_, sent about an hour before the shootings, included a satirical cartoon of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In it he wishes everyone “good health”.
The attackers, who fled in a dark-coloured hatchback, reportedly shouted: “We have avenged the prophet.”
Their getaway car was later found abandoned.
As the manhunt for the attackers began, the massacre prompted the French government to raise the national security alert system to “alerte attentat”, the highest level, across the entire Ile-de-France region around Paris.
The shootings in the capital come shortly after an outbreak of opportunist attacks in crowded spaces across France.
Late last month, a van burst into a Christmas market in the western city of Nantes, injuring 10 people before the driver reportedly began stabbing himself.
In the eastern city of Dijon, a driver reportedly shouting ‘’God is great’’ in Arabic ran down several people, injuring 13 before coming to a stop.
Those incidents came after an attacker knifed three police officers in Tours before he was shot dead by one of the officers.
Repeated shots could be heard in video footage of today’s attack filmed by witnesses from various vantage points.
One clip shows what appears to be a police officer being shot at close range, before two masked men, dressed in black, get into a car.
In another clip, a passer-by hearing the attack dives for cover between two cars.
Le Point reported that cartoonists Jean Cabu, Stephane Charbonnier and Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac were among the dead.
Charlie Hebdo’s website lists “Charb” as its publication director, and “Cabu” as artistic director.
Mr Charbonnier was included in a 2013 Wanted Dead Or Alive For Crimes Against Islam article published by Inspire, the terrorist propaganda magazine published by al Qaida.
French newspaper Le Monde reported that cartoonist Georges Wolinski had also been killed.
The Foreign Office warned Britons in the French capital to “take extra care” in the light of the attack.
Radio France chief executive Mathieu Gilet announced on Twitter that a contributor, Bernard Maris, was another of the victims.
OFFICER’S EXECUTION CAUGHT ON VIDEO
The execution of a police officer is among the horrific scenes captured in a string of videos posted online in the aftermath of the Paris magazine massacre.
Clips recorded by eyewitnesses on smartphones showed two masked gunmen dressed in black firing what appear to be rifles as terrified onlookers fled.
One video circulated on Facebook shows the two gunmen stood next to a Black Citroen car firing at distance at a police officer stood on the pavement on a tree-lined boulevard.
The camera then pans to show the officer, now wounded, on the floor clutching his leg and raising his arms in an apparent gesture of surrender.
The assailants march towards him before one shoots him casually in the head at close range. The officer’s body immediately goes limp, while the gunmen run back to the car and drive off.
Images of the aftermath of the shooting showed the windscreen of a police car riddled with bullet holes and casualties being carried away on stretchers.
In footage filmed from a nearby rooftop one of the attackers can be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” - meaning God is the greatest.
The clip, posted by journalist Martin Boudot, shows the gunmen firing a volley of shots before getting into a black car.
The narrator is heard to say “they’re leaving now”, seconds after shots ring out.”Shush, they’re there, they’re there,” a man replies quickly, before shouting and another volley of gunfire is heard.
The streets around Charlie Hebdo’s offices are largely deserted in the footage but in another video a female pedestrian can be seen running and then crouching next to a car as a string of shots ring out
There were reports that some of the gruesome footage was aired by European broadcasters, while several clips were removed from social media sites within minutes of appearing.