• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Gunmen on the loose after 12 killed in Paris magazine attack


France has deployed thousands of police to hunt down gunmen who shot dead 12 people in an attack on a satirical magazine in Paris yesterday that was one of the deadliest terrorist  assaults on European soil in recent years.

The apparently well-planned attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, under police protection for years because of its repeated mocking of Islam, followed months of warnings by the  French government of the risk of terrorism from Islamist militants.

France went on the highest state of alert, with places of worship and media offices put under extra protection.

Thousands of people gathered in the Place de la République in Paris, symbolic of French democracy, to demonstrate against the assault and affirm their support for the freedom of the press yesterday’s dramatic events began when two masked gunmen entered the magazine’s offices, opening fire with automatic weapons.

Eight journalists, including four of Charlie Hebdo’s best-known cartoonists, and two policemen were among the dead. The attackers escaped in a car, later found abandoned in the  northeast of the capital.

Although their identity was unknown, Paris prosecutor François Molins quoted a witness as saying at least one of the assailants shouted “God is Great” in Arabic during the attack.

The fact that more than one gunman was involved – and that automatic weapons were used – implies a greater degree of planning and co-ordination than would have been the case for a lone assailant, according to one European security official.

If confirmed as the work of Islamist militants, it would rank as the worst Islamist terrorist attack in Europe since suicide bombers struck in London in July 2005, killing 52 people.

French ministers have frequently warned in recent months of the risk of attacks by homegrown jihadis. Officials say some 1,000 French citizens or residents have been involved in jihadi movements in Syria and Iraq, the most from any European country. A Frenchman, Mehdi Nemmouche, who spent a year in Syria, was captured and charged with the killing of three people at the Brussels Jewish museum last May.

The attack comes against the backdrop of rising political tensions in Europe over immigration and the perceived growing influence of radical Islam. Support is growing for the far right National Front (FN) in France, led by Marine Le Pen, which campaigns angrily on these issues. The attack also followed big demonstrations in Germany by Pegida, a new rightwing “anti-Islamisation” movement.

President François Hollande, who rushed to the scene after the attack, said France was in a state of shock, describing the shooting as “an act of exceptional barbarity”.

“We are at a very difficult moment. Several terror attacks have been prevented in the previous weeks,” Mr Hollande said. “We are threatened because we are a country of freedom.”

President Barack Obama led international condemnations, praising France for standing with the US against terrorism. He added: “For us to see the kind of cowardly evil attacks that  took place today I think reinforces once again why it’s so important for us to stand in solidarity with them, just as they stand in solidarity with us.”