Twelve people are now confirmed dead in a midday Wednesday gunfire attack upon a satirical weekly newspaper in central Paris.
The publication, Charlie Hebdo, has been the subject of repeated threats for its caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, among other controversial sketches.
Benoit Bringer, an Agence Premiere Ligne journalist who witnessed the attack, told the iTele network he saw several masked men armed with machine guns.
French President Francois Hollande immediately went to the scene and called the incident “barbaric” and “a terrorist attack”
“Eleven people have been killed. Four are in an extremely critical condition,” Hollande said upon his arrival. Since then, an additional victim has died. “We don’t have the entire count yet, but 40 or more are now protected.”
Announcing a heightened security alert, Hollande suggested that similar acts could occur. Other newspapers, large stores, religious institutions and public transport have now been placed under reinforced security.
“We are menaced because we are a country of liberty, and because we are a country of liberty we will punish those who have done this,” Hollande said.
Luc Poignant, an official of the SBP police union, said the attackers escaped in two vehicles.
NBC News reports that Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons of Muhammad in 2012 forced France to temporarily close its embassies and schools in more than 20 countries amid fears of reprisals.
The publication’s offices had been firebombed in November 2011 after publishing a caricature of Mohammed on its cover.
• Additional reporting by PETER MIKELBANK