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Members of GIPN , the French national police intervention group, arrive at the police station in Charleville Mezieres in northeastern France following a deadly attack in Paris on the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, on January 7, 2014. French police mounted a frantic manhunt January 7th for at least two masked men who screamed "Allahu akbar" as they gunned down 12 people at a satirical weekly, in an attack that prompted vigils across Europe. France's Muslim leadership sharply condemned the shooting at the Paris satirical weekly that left at least 12 people dead as a "barbaric" attack and an assault on press freedom and democracy. (Getty Images)

Members of GIPN , the French national police intervention group, arrive at the police station in Charleville Mezieres in northeastern France following a deadly attack in Paris on the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, on January 7, 2014. French police mounted a frantic manhunt January 7th for at least two masked men who screamed "Allahu akbar" as they gunned down 12 people at a satirical weekly, in an attack that prompted vigils across Europe. France's Muslim leadership sharply condemned the shooting at the Paris satirical weekly that left at least 12 people dead as a "barbaric" attack and an assault on press freedom and democracy.

(Getty Images)

The Globe in Paris: Police identify three suspects Add to ...

The centre of the French capital was in lockdown Wednesday as police carried out a citywide manhunt for three heavily armed gunmen – believed to be Islamist militants – who stormed the offices of a satirical newspaper and killed 12 people.

French police officials say they have identified three men as suspects in the deadly attack.

Recapping the Charlie Hebdo shooting, plus a prophetic 2012 interview clip with magazine's editor (AP Video)

Two officials named the suspects as Frenchmen Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, in their early 30s, as well as 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn’t immediately clear.

One of the officials said they were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive and ongoing investigation.

Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq’s insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

No arrests have been confirmed in the hunt for the attackers. It was the deadliest attack in France in half a century.

French media reported that four high-profile cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo – including the publication’s editor-in-chief, Stéphane Charbonnier – were among the dead. At least two police officers were also killed, while 11 other people were injured. One of the police officers killed had been assigned to protect Mr. Charbonnier, who had received multiple death threats and was reported to be on an al-Qaeda hit list.

(Follow The Globe's @markmackinnon for live updates from Paris)

WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR

  • three suspects are still at large
  • 12 people have been killed.
  • among the dead are the magazine's editor, two police officers, a maintenance worker, Bernard Maris, an economist who was a contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio, and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac and Jean Cabut.
  • another eight people were injured, including four in critical condition
  • France is on its highest level of terrorism alert

THE MANHUNT: PARIS ON HIGH ALERT

Sirens could be heard across Paris as Prime Minister Manuel Valls said security would be ramped up at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and department stores.

“All the resources of the justice system and Interior Ministry have been mustered" to catch the three suspects, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters. "They'll be punished with the severity that the brutality of their acts deserve.”

Charlie Hebdo appears to have been a carefully selected target. French media reported that the gunmen demanded by name that several employees step forward.

A video posted on the Internet showed the two gunmen, wearing black ski masks and military-style flak jackets, afterward shooting one police officer in the head at point-blank range with a Kalashnikov assault rifle after he briefly blocked their escape in a black Citroën sedan. Prior to that, the shooters had opened fire on two police patrols, but no one was hurt.

The Citroën struck a Volkswagen Touran on Place du Colonel Fabien, in 19th arrondissement, and was subsequently abandoned on Rue de Meaux, François Molins, the public prosecutor for Paris, said as he gave an official account of what happened. The female driver of the Volkswagen said three people were in the Citroën, Mr. Molins said.The men then carjacked a Renault Clio and drove away, he said.

THE SCENE: WITNESSES DESCRIBE CARNAGE

A Charlie Hebdo cartoonist says the gunmen forced their way inside after threatening her and her young daughter.

In an interview with L’Humanité, Corinne Rey said she was about to enter the magazine’s offices after picking up her daughter at daycare. “As I arrived at the door of the magazine’s building, two armed, hooded men brutally threatened us,” she said.

“They wanted to go inside, go upstairs. I punched in the code. They fired on Wolinski, Cabu … it last five minutes … I hid under a desk … they spoke flawless French … said they were with al-Qaeda.” (Cabu is the pseudonym of cartoonist Jean Cabut, who was among the 12 killed.)

Another Charlie Hebdo staffer, Sigolène Vinson, told RFI that one of the shooters aimed his gun at her but spared her. “I’m not killing you because you are a woman and we don’t kill women but you have to convert to Islam, read the Qu'ran and wear a veil,” he told her.

She said he left, shouting, “Allahu akbar, allahu akbar.”

Sharing the same floor with Charlie Hebdo is a documentary production house, Premières Lignes. One of the Premières Lignes journalists told RFI that they heard shouts and gunshots after seeing hooded men armed with Kalashnikov rifles.

Fleeing to the roof of the building, they later saw two gunmen leave. At the same time, three police officers arrived on bicycles but had to retreat because they couldn’t match the attackers’ firepower, the witness said.

In a video shot from the rooftop by a Premières Lignes staffer, the shout “Allahu akbar” is heard, amid the gunshots as the gunmen leave the building, on Nicolas Appert street.

In another shocking video, recorded by a witness a block away, on Richard Lenoir Boulevard, one of the hooded men executes a police officer in cold blood. On that video, two hooded gunmen stand next to their black car and fire several shots. A wounded police officer is curled up on the ground, moaning in pain. One of the gunmen then runs to the officer, screams, “I’m going to kill him!” and shoots the officer in the head.

A man who watched in fear from his home across the street said the attackers were so methodical that he first mistook them for France’s elite anti-terrorism forces. Then they fired on the officer.

“They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot. While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the other one delivered the final coup de grace,” said the man, who refused to allow his name to be used because he feared for his safety. “They ran back to the car. The moment they got in, the car drove off almost casually.”

The witness added: “I think they were extremely well-trained, and they knew exactly down to the centimetre and even to the second what they had to do.”

THE VICTIMS: EDITOR HAD BEEN ON HIT LIST

One of the two officers killed was 42 years old and worked for a bicycle patrol squad, Le Figaro reported.

The other dead officer was a member of the VIP protection unit, the police union said. He had been assigned to guard Mr. Charbonnier, the Charlie Hebdo editor.

The 48-year-old Mr. Charbonnier, who used the pen name Charb, was named on a list of those “wanted dead or alive for crimes against Islam,” in a 2013 article published by an online magazine affiliated with al-Qaeda. In a 2012 interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper, Mr. Charbonnier defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to satirize whomever and whatever it chose, regardless of who took offence.

“We publish caricatures every week, but people only describe them as declarations of war when it's about the person of the Prophet or radical Islam. When you start saying that you can't create such drawings, then the same thing will soon apply to other, more harmless representations,” he said. “And a drawing has never killed anyone.”

Mr. Velhac was a versatile artist who drew cartoons for Charlie Hebdo but also the weekly Marianne, published comic books and did courthouse sketches. The 58-year-old drew under the pen name Tignous, meaning “stubborn” in the Occitan dialect of Southern France. It was a term of endearment a grandmother used to call him.

Mr. Cabut, known as Cabu, helped revive Charlie Hebdo in 1992, but he wasn’t just known as a controversial caricaturist in France. Over his career he created comics and cartoons dedicated to children and teenagers, and a book on jazz. As a young man, he dreamed of being the drummer in the Cab Calloway band.

Mr. Wolinski, a role model for generations of French satirists, continued to draw for mainstream publications like Le Nouvel Observateur, Libération and Paris Match. He also wrote for theatre and film. He was an important public figure in France, where Jacques Chirac named him to the Legion of Honour in 2005.

THE REACTION: ‘THIS IS A TERRORIST ATTACK’

  • France: French President François Hollande appeared at the scene in central Paris — Charlie Hebdo’s offices are in the 11th Arrondissement, a short walk from the Bastille and other tourist magnets — and said he was had put the country on highest alert. “This is a terrorist attack, there is no doubt about it,” Mr. Hollande told reporters, adding that: “No one can harm the spirit of this country, which is this newspaper.”
  • Social media: On Twitter, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie began trending shortly after the attack, as many users, in a show of solidarity, changed their profile images to a black background with those three words in white text.
  • Denmark: Danish media group JP/Politikens Hus, whose newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons in 2005 depicting the Prophet Mohammed, has increased its security level because of the Charlie Hebdo attack, an internal e-mail showed. Jyllands-Posten’s publishing of the cartoons sparked a wave of protests across the Muslim world in which at least 50 died.
  • Canada: Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the attack “a barbaric act” that serves as a “grim reminder that no country is immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” including the murder of soldiers in Ottawa and Quebec as well as the December shootings in Sydney. “Canadians stand with France on this dark day,” the Prime Minister said in a statement. Ottawa announced that Mr. Harper has instructed his cabinet and senior officials to reach out to the French and offer assistance, and his office said the Prime Minister is being briefed on the incident.
  • United States: President Barack Obama called the shootings “cowardly evil attacks” on journalists and a free press. Mr. Obama said the attack is a reminder that such tragedies can occur anywhere in the world. He promised to stay vigilant and “hunt down and bring the perpetrators of this specific act to justice, and to roll up the networks that help to advance these kinds of plots.”
  • Britain: British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country stood united with France. “We stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values,” Cameron said in the House of Commons.

  • Russia: President Vladimir Putin also condemned the attack as a “cynical crime,” and pledged co-operation in fighting terrorism.

  • Salman Rushdie: The novelist, who spent years in hiding after his novel The Satanic Verses led Iran to issue a death edict against him, said: “I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”
  • Islamic organizations: Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French mosques, condemned the “hateful act,” and urged Muslims and Christians “to intensify their actions to give more strength to this dialogue, to make a united front against extremism.” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations, added its condemnation, saying that violence and radicalism were the biggest enemies of Islam and went against all its fundamental principles and values.

(More: See how the world's cartoonists are paying tribute to the victims)

THE TARGET: WHAT IS CHARLIE HEBDO?

The French satirical weekly has often courted controversy with attacks on political and religious leaders.

Their latest issue before the shooting featured a cover story on author Michel Houellebecq, whose new novel Submission – the story of a near-future France where a Muslim candidate is elected president and turns the country into a conservative Islamist state – was published Wednesday.

The Charlie Hebdo Twitter account’s final tweet before the attack mocked Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The magazine’s previous controversies have included:

  • February, 2006: Charlie Hebdo reprints 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in Jyllands-Posten the previous September.
  • March, 2007: A French court rules in favour of Charlie Hebdo after Islamic groups sued the weekly, saying it violated French hate-speech laws.
  • Fall 2011: Charlie Hebdo publishes a special issue on Oct. 31, titled “Charia Hebdo” – a reference to sharia law – declaring Mohammed a guest editor and putting a cartoon of him on the cover. The next month, their Paris headquarters was firebombed.

With reports from Tu Thanh Ha, Les Perreaux, Steven Chase, Dianne Nice, Reuters and Associated Press

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