PARIS — An attack on the Paris headquarters of a French satirical magazine has left at least 12 people dead, including the Jewish caricaturist Georges Wolinski.
Two of the reported fatalities were police officers, according to Le Monde. Ten others were wounded in the attack, five of them seriously.
Details of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices are still sketchy, but witnesses said the assailants knew exactly whom to target at the magazine, which has published a series of satirical cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
Several of those cartoons were drawn by Wolinksi, 80, a Tunisian-born Jew who was known for his cynical and at times vulgar style. Born in 1934, he moved to France as a teenager and got into journalism in the 1960s, going on to work at some of the country’s leading publications such as L’Humanite, Le Nouvel Observateur and Paris Match.
“It’s clear that this was a planned attack against Wolinski and the other cartoon artists,” said Richard Kenigsman, a well-known Jewish caricaturist and painter from Brussels, who cited an attack and multiple threats against Charlie Hebdo since 2006 for publishing caricatures deemed offensive to Islam.
Corinne Rey, a designer at the magazine, let two gunmen into the offices on Jan. 7 after she returned from bringing her daughter to kindergarten. Threatening to kill her, the assailants forced her to punch in the security code and proceeded to shoot four caricaturists — Wolinski, Jean Cabut, Stephane Charbonnier and Bernard Verlhac — along with eight others in a shooting spree that went on for five minutes.
The killers were native French speakers who said they were affiliated with Al Qaeda, she said. The assailants cried out “Allah is the greatest” in Arabic and announced the attack was to “avenge the prophet,” Le Monde reported. They reportedly fled in a hijacked car.
Charbonnier, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, has been under police protection for years because of numerous death threats he received over his caricatures of Muhammad, including one showing him being decapitated by Muslim fanatics for being an infidel. According to L’Humanite, the assailants killed two of Charbonnier’s police-assigned body guards along with two other officers, one of whom was executed on the street outside the magazine’s offices while begging for his life.
Footage from the scene posted on the website JSSnews shows two heavily armed men exiting a black car and shooting a rifle at a police near the building. One of the masked assailants then approaches the officer and shoots him in the head.
Police had guarded Charlie Hebdo regularly since 2011, when the offices were firebombed. The fire consumed the paper’s archive and caused massive damage, according to Michel Kischka, a Belgian cartoonist who personally knew three of the four victims.
“Perhaps they failed to understand how well-trained and adept at killing their enemies are,” Kischka said. “But after the 2011 fire, I know that they understood their determination to kill.”
French President Francois Hollande, speaking live near the scene of the shooting, called the shooting a terrorist attack. The magazine, Hollande added, “was threatened several times in the past and we need to show we are a united country.”
Hollande also vowed that French authorities “will punish the attackers. We will look for the people responsible.”
In a statement, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor called the attack part of “the beginning of a wave of terror on the streets of Europe” and “a war against freedom of speech and the European way of life which has already seen Jewish children gunned down at school and people murdered in cold blood while visiting a museum in Brussels.”
Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, said in a statement, “France must wake up to the danger of Islamism and the terror it brings all over the world: In Paris, Toulouse, Sarcelles, Brussels, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, jihadists are acting on the same radical Islamist ideology that is used to manipulate them.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman sent his condolences to the French people and said that Israel sympathizes with France’s pain, the Jerusalem Post reported.
According to Le Monde, the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices is the bloodiest in France since 1835.