A general view shows firefighters, police officers and forensics gathered in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015 (AFP Photo / Martin Bureau)
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Three gunmen are on the run after killing 10 journalists and two policemen at the Paris headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Police launched a manhunt and raised security levels in the French capital.
READ MORE: Fatal shooting at Charlie Hebdo HQ in Paris LIVE UPDATES
At least two black-hooded men gunmen armed with Kalashnikov rifles entered the building of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in the 11th district on Wednesday morning. Some reports suggested that they even had a rocket-propelled grenade.
“Somebody who was nearby on the roof and saw much of the incident said three policemen then arrived on a pushbike,” Henry Samuel, the Daily Telegraph's Paris correspondent, told Sky News.
"When they saw how armed these men were they left and then there was a kind of gunfight in the street.”
Intense shooting broke out, with the gunmen fleeing the building and getting into in a black Citroen. They left behind dead bodies and a police van riddled with bullets. France's top security official said later there were three gunmen.
Four famous French cartoonists were killed in the attack - Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut aka ‘Cabu’, Bernard Verlhac aka ‘Tignous’ and Stéphane Charbonnier aka ‘Charb’.
“They shot Wolinski, Cabu… it lasted about five minutes… I took cover under a desk… they spoke perfect French… they said they were Al-Qaeda,” cartoonist Corine Rey, aka “Coco”, was quoted as saying by the weekly Humanité.
Charlie Hebdo office (Google Maps)
READ MORE: Charlie Hebdo attack: Chief editor Charb, cartoonists Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous killed
Several videos posted on social media showed two masked gunmen standing next to a black car on the Paris street shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest") and firing shots at a police car. The footage came from the upper floors of the buildings next to Charlie Hebdo’s offices.
“While fleeing they wounded a policeman and a passer-by was also hit,” the Daily Telegraph's Paris correspondent said.
The attackers got into a getaway car and set off in the direction of Porte de Pantin in northeast Paris, according to police. Abandoning the first car, they hijacked a second turning the driver out on to the road.
Les tireurs de #ChalieHebdo face à une voiture de police. Ils ont fait feu, les policiers ont répliqué puis reculé pic.twitter.com/Ld1sxkRLvW
— Elise Barthet (@EliseBarthet) January 7, 2015
No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. However, an Islamic State militant praised the attack on the French satirical magazine on Wednesday.
"The lions of Islam have avenged our Prophet," Abu Mussab, who fights for IS insurgents in Syria, told Reuters via internet connection. "These are our lions. It's the first drops – more will follow," he said, speaking via an internet connection from Syria. He added that he and his fellow fighters are happy about the incident.
Mussab said he did not know the gunmen who carried out the attack, but added "they are on the path of the emir [IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi]....and our Sheikh Osama (bin Laden)."
Reports suggest that the cartoons portraying Prophet Mohammed published earlier by the satirical paper were the reason for the attack. The gunmen reportedly called out the victims by name, shouting: “We have avenged the prophet."
In November 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an issue with the Prophet Mohammed as its “guest editor”. The prophet, who Islam bans from portraying, was put on the front page saying: "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter."
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The magazine said it was how they decided to celebrate the victory of the Islamist party in the Tunisian elections. Its office was firebombed following the publication.
In 2005, Charlie Hebdo was sharply criticized by Muslims after it reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed from a Danish newspaper.