PARIS — Masked gunmen armed with AK-47s and shouting “Allahu Akbar” stormed the offices of a French satirical news magazine Wednesday in a terror attack that left 12 people dead, including the editor and two police officers.
The suspects shot dead one of the officers on the street as they fled — escaping first in a black Citroen that they abandoned after a crash, and then in a sedan they carjacked from a bystander.
There was no verified claim of responsibility or motive for the ambush, but the target, a weekly publication called Charlie Hebdo, has published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed three years ago.
Late in the day, authorities released the names of three suspects: Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, both in their 30s, and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad.
France declared Thursday a national day of mourning, raised its terror threat level and stepped up security for media organizations, large stores and places of worship, and launched a manhunt for the killers with the assistance of the FBI.
“We will find the people who did this,” French President Francois Hollande vowed. He later called for national unity.
“Freedom is always bigger than barbarism,” he said. “Vive la France.”
They included the paper’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier — widely known by his pen name Charb — and his police guard, according to the Associated Press, citing a police union spokesman. Also killed was economist and writer Bernard Maris, who is a senior figure with France’s central bank. Eleven people were injured, four of them critically.
Prosecutors said two gunmen wearing balaclavas arrived at the building in a black Citroen C3 and killed a maintenance worker on the way in before heading to the third-floor editorial offices of the magazine. There, they shot dead eight journalists, a guest and a police officer who had been assigned to protect workers.
“Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo,” one of the men shouted in French, according to one video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV.
In another video, shouts of “Allahu Akbar” — or “God is great” — can be heard as the shootings took place. The Associated Press reported that the gunmen spoke flawless, unaccented French.
As the gunmen fled, there were confronted by police three times. Twice, they fired on officers, but no one was hurt. But on Boulevard Richard le Noir, they killed an officer in cold blood, a prosecutor said.
Racing toward the north of the city, the suspects hit the car of a civilian, who was wounded, officials said. Ditching their vehicle, they then hijacked a Renault Clio at gunpoint.
Police union official Rocco Contento told Reuters that other attacks remained “a possibility” and “other sites are being secured.”
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.
Its most recent tweet was a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. The caption translates to: “Best wishes, by the way.”
Meilleurs vœux, au fait. pic.twitter.com/a2JOhqJZJM
— Charlie Hebdo (@Charlie_Hebdo_) January 7, 2015
Wednesday’s shooting is one of the worst terror attacks on French soil.