Twelve people were killed Wednesday when gunmen stormed a French satirical news magazine which has published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
France raised its terror threat level following the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in central Paris and stepped up security for media organizations, large stores and places of worship. Two police officers were among the dead and the gunmen remained at large hours after the attack, which occurred at 11:30 a.m. local time
“We will find the people who did this,” French President Francois Hollande said. “France is today shocked by this terrorist attack.”
Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” — or “God is great” — can he heard in eyewitness video of the shootings as they took place.
Benoit Bringer, a journalist with Agence Premiere Ligne who saw the attack, told the iTele network he saw masked men armed with machine guns. Television footage from the scene showed a police car with at last 10 bullet holes in the windshield.
Police confirmed 12 people had been killed. Journalists were believed to be among the dead.
“It was a pretty horrible sight,” said Anders Lund, a 28-year-old musician who heard the gunshots from his apartment just 200 yards away. “I heard a few bangs, loud ones,” he told NBC News. “I did not know they were gunshots until I heard all the sirens.”
“I went down there, and there were officers and people from ambulances in the street. It was pretty chaotic. People in cafes and brasseries were standing outside trying to work out what had happened. From afar I could see people on stretchers being carried out. It did not look good.”
President Barack Obama condemned the “horrific shooting,” saying in a statement that “the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said “the murders in Paris are sickening,” adding on Twitter that the U.K. stands with France in its fight against terrorism.
Charlie Hebdo is a publication that has always courted controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders. It published cartoons of Muhammad in 2012, forcing France to temporarily close embassies and schools in more than 20 countries amid fears of reprisals. Its offices were also firebombed in November 2011 after publishing a caricature of Muhammad on its cover.
It’s most recent tweet was a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. The caption translates to: “Best wishes, by the way.”
Hollande added that several other attacks had been thwarted in France “in recent weeks.”
“No barbaric act will ever extinguish the freedom of the press,” Hollande said in a tweet. “We are a united country.”
There was a similar response on Twitter, where the hashtag #jesuischarlie — “I am Charlie” — expressed in solidarity with the magazine was tweeted more than 133,000 times according to analytics website, Topsy.
Wednesday’s shooting is one of the worst terror attacks on French soil. In March 2012, seven people were killed in three gun attacks targeting French soldiers and Jewish civilians in Montauban and Toulouse, while a string of bombings in 1995 killed eight and injured more than 100.
Despite the heightened security, the U.S. Embassy in Paris said in a statement that it had no plans to close or limit access to diplomatic facilities in France. “We are open for business as usual,” it said.
U.S. defense officials also said there were no plans to increase the level of security for U.S. military bases and personnel throughout Europe. Despite Wednesday’s attack, there appears to be no direct or imminent threat against U.S. military installations or personnel, the officials said.