12 Killed in French Terrorist Shooting Thought To Be Sparked by Caricature Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad

Jan 07, 2015 11:33 AM EST

Paris shooting
One of the injured is transported to a hospital after gunmen attack the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Photo: CNN

Twelve people have been killed this morning as three gunmen opened fire at the headquarters of a French satirical magazine in Paris, and the motive is reported to stem from a political cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The shooting, already confirmed by French officials to be a terrorist attack, happened at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly magazine that specializes in left-wing French political topics.

The publication has been running since 1969 (with a 10-year break in the 80s) and has often been the subject of controversy regarding its brand of political satire. In November of 2011, the magazine jokingly said that it was "guest-edited" by Muhammad, with an image of the Muslim prophet saying "100 lashes of the whip if you don't die laughing." The magazine's office was fire-bombed in response the following day.

That attack didn't stop Charlie Hebdo from doing what it did best, and in September of 2012, it portrayed Muhammad once again on the cover in cartoon form, but this time as a nude caricature. 

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned Charlie Hebdo's continued jabs at Islam, saying, "In France, there is a principle of freedom of expression, which should not be undermined. In the present context, given this absurd video that has been aired, strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries. Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?"

But the newspaper's editor defended his stance saying that they do satirical cartoons of everyone every single week, but "when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation." Cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier said in an interview following the controversy, "It may sound pompous, but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees."

Many believe that this "oil on the fire" is what caused Wednesday's shooting that caused the death of 10 people, most of which were employees of the publication, and two police officers who responded to the scene. Among the dead are long-time cartoonists Jean Cabu, Stéphane Charbonnier (known as Charb), Bernard Verlhac (known as Tignous), Georges Woliniski, and editor Bernard Maris.

President Obama released a statement condemning the attack, saying that "We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my Administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice."

This attack is France's deadliest since 1989. In addition to the 12 killed, eight others are wounded, including four in critical condition. Several videos have been released already showing the masked gunmen trade gunfire with French police. One such grisly video shows a gunman wound an officer, then run up and shoot him point blank in the head as the officer begs for his life.

Another video taken by a journalist for the Premieres Lignes agency shows the gunmen shouting "God is great!" and "We have avenged the Prophet!" as the attack began.

The magazine's website now adorns the words "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) and the phrase is trending across all social media outlets to show support for those affected by the massacre.

As of this time, the three gunmen and one get-away driver are still on the loose and no groups have claimed responsibility for the attack.