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Terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo: what we know and don't know

Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

Masked gunmen attacked the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday morning, killing at least 12 people before escaping by car. The story is still developing, but here is what we know so far about the incident that French President Francois Hollande has said was "a terrorist attack without a doubt."

What we know

  • At least 12 people were killed by gunmen attacking the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo with automatic weapons.
  • Eight of the dead were journalists, two were police, one was a guest of the editorial board, and one was at the reception desk.
  • The victims include cartoonists: "Cabu" (Jean Cabut), Georges Wolinski, "Charb" (Stéphane Charbonnier), and "Tignous" (Bernard Verlhac), as well as Philippe Honoré. Also killed were Michel Renaud, the founder of "Rendez-vous de Carnet de Voyage," a travel-themed art festival in the city of Clermont-Ferrand; Moustapha Ourrad, a copy editor at Charlie Hebdo; Bernard Maris, an economist and professor at the University of Paris VIII; Elsa Cayat, an analyst and columnist at Charlie Hebdo; Frédéric Boisseau, a security guard; and two police officers, Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro.
  • Eleven people were wounded, with four in serious condition, according to Paris prosecutor François Molins. Among them are two police officers and Philippe Lançon, a journalist.
  • Police identified suspects as Saïd Kouachi, 34, and his brother Chérif Kouachi, 32, both from Paris.
  • On Friday, French police cornered the Kouachi brothers inside a building in Dammartin-en-Goele, a village outside Paris near Charles de Gaulle airport. The brothers reportedly have taken at least one hostage. Police negotiators have made contact with the brothers, but the village is on lockdown until the situation is resolved.
  • Saïd Kouachi "spent a few months" training with al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen in marksmanship, small-arms combat and other skills, according to a "senior US official" quoted in the New York Times. A cartoonist who survived the attack said the gunmen said they were affiliated with al-Qaeda, according to Le Monde.
  • Chérif Kouachi was convicted on terrorism charges in 2010 for helping funnel fighters to Iraq and Syria. Both brothers were on the no-fly list, as well as in a US database of known or suspected terrorists.
  • A third man, Hamyd Mourad, 18, from Reims, turned himself in near the Belgian border after being sought by police, the New York Times reported; according to Le Monde, he is not suspected of participating in the attack itself.
  • Charlie Hebdo is known for its provocative, satirical covers and cartoons, often lampooning religion or religious extremism — and particularly Muslim extremism. That has been controversial in France: some support the magazine's stance, while others have criticized its Islam-related drawings. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked of them, "Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?"
  • Charlie Hebdo has been a terrorist target before. It was firebombed in 2011 after the magazine published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed. Publishing portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed is considered by some Muslims to be an insult and religious violation.

Paris Map

(The Guardian)

  • French President Francois Hollande called the massacre "a terrorist attack, without a doubt." President Barack Obama called the attack "cowardly" and "evil," adding that the shooting shows "terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press."
  • There is a new attack underway in a Paris supermarket. France's anti-terrorism prosecutor has confirmed a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Paris, with multiple hostages and wounded at the scene.

What we don't know

  • Whether the attack currently underway in a Paris supermarket is connected to the Charlie Hebdo attack, or to the police standoff with the Kouachi brothers in Dammartin-en-Goele.
  • Whether al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen ordered the attack or simply provided training to Saïd Kouachi. So far there is no evidence tying the attack to a particular group. According to analyst JM Berger, in recent days ISIS supporters had promised "good news for the brothers in Europe." However, Berger urged readers to be cautious about jumping to conclusions, noting that relying on such information had led to mistakes in the past.
  • Whether the suspects have made any demands to police negotiators. There are reports that the brothers have said they want to become "martyrs," but they are in contact with police negotiators. It is not clear whether they have made any demands, or what the status of the negotiations is.
  • Whether the attackers were targeting specific individuals or the magazine generally. At least one report suggests that the gunmen asked for certain journalists by name. Survivors told The New York Times that the gunmen deliberately avoided shooting women. A journalist from Charlie Hebdo told Le Monde that the attackers might have known the publication has a weekly meeting on Wednesday mornings; otherwise, the offices aren't occupied. But the gunmen also apparently went to the wrong building at first.