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Paris massacre gunmen identified

Three men have been identified as suspects in the attack against French newspaper offices that killed 12 people and shook the nation.

Two French police officials named the suspects as Frenchmen Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, in their early 30s, as well as 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality was not immediately clear.

One of the officials said they were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network.

Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

No arrests have been confirmed in the hunt for the attackers. It was the deadliest attack in France in half a century.

Masked gunmen stormed the offices the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.

They methodically killed 12 people, including the editor, before escaping in a car.

Shouting "Allahu akbar!" as they fired, the men claimed links to al Qaida in their military-style, noon-time attack on the weekly paper, located near Paris' Bastille monument.

The publication's depictions of Islam and Islamic extremists have drawn condemnation and threats before - it was firebombed in 2011 - although it also satirised other religions and political figures.

Both al Qaida and the Islamic State group (IS) have repeatedly threatened to attack France, which is conducting airstrikes against extremists in Iraq and fighting Islamic militants in Africa.

President Francois Hollande said it was a terrorist act "of exceptional barbarism," adding that other attacks have been thwarted in France in recent weeks.

Fears have been running high in France and elsewhere in Europe that jihadis returning from conflicts in Syria and Iraq will stage attacks at home.

In a sombre address to the nation tonight, Mr Hollande pledged to hunt down the killers, and pleaded with his compatriots to come together in a time of insecurity and suspicion.

"Let us unite, and we will win," he said. "Vive la France!"

France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation.

Schools closed across Paris, although thousands of people jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honour the victims, waving pens and papers reading "Je suis Charlie" - "I am Charlie."

Similar rallies were held in London's Trafalgar Square as well as Madrid, Berlin and Brussels.

There were no immediate arrests and no immediate claim of responsibility for the shootings.

The Paris prosecutor said the attack also wounded 11 people - four of them seriously - and was condemned by world leaders as an attack on freedom of expression. Supporters of IS praised it.

Clad all in black with hoods and carrying assault rifles, the attackers forced one of the cartoonists arriving at the office building with her young daughter to open the door with a security code.

The staff was in an editorial meeting and the gunmen headed straight for the paper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier - widely known by his pen name Charb - killing him and his police bodyguard first, said Christophe Crepin, a police union spokesman.

Minutes later, two men strolled out to a black car waiting below, calmly firing on a police officer, with one gunman shooting him in the head as he writhed on the ground, according to video and a man who watched in fear from his home across the street.

The witness, who refused to allow his name to be used because he was afraid for his safety, said the attackers were so methodical that he first mistook them for France's elite anti-terrorism forces. Then they fired on the officer.

"They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot. While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the other one delivered the final coup de grace," he said.

"They ran back to the car. The moment they got in, the car drove off almost casually."

The witness added: "I think they were extremely well-trained, and they knew exactly down to the centimetre and even to the second what they had to do."

Eight journalists, a guest and two police officers were killed, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, giving a partial breakdown of the 12 dead.

Among those killed were Bernard Maris, an economist who was a contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio, and cartoonists Georges Wolinski and Berbard Verlhac, better known as Tignous.

"Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo," one of the men shouted in French, according to video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV.

Other video showed two gunmen in black at a crossroads who appeared to fire down one of the streets. A cry of "Allahu akbar!" - Arabic for "God is great" - could be heard amid the gunshots.

Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who said she was forced to let the gunmen in, said the men spoke fluent French and claimed to be from al Qaida.

In an interview with the newspaper l'Humanite, she said the entire shooting lasted perhaps five minutes, and she hid under a desk.

The video showed the killers moving deliberately and calmly, with one even bending over to toss a fallen shoe back into the small black car before it sped off.

The car was later found abandoned in northern Paris, the prosecutor said, and they hijacked a Renault Clio.

A tweeter from al Qaida's Yemeni branch, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, who communicated Wednesday with The Associated Press, said the group is not claiming responsibility, but that it might have inspired the attack.

In 2013, al Qaida magazine Inspire specifically threatened Charb and included an article titled "France the Imbecile Invader".

Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other sketches.

Just minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of the Islamic State's leader giving New Year's wishes.

Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after an issue featured a caricature of the prophet on its cover.

Nearly a year later, the publication again published Muhammad caricatures, drawing denunciations from the Muslim world because Islam prohibits the publication of drawings of the prophet.

Another cartoon, released in this week's issue and entitled "Still No Attacks in France," had a caricature of a jihadi fighter saying "Just wait - we have until the end of January to present our New Year's wishes". Charb was the artist.

"This is the darkest day of the history of the French press," said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.

President Barack Obama offered US help in pursuing the gunmen, saying they had attacked freedom of expression and "America's oldest ally".

British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country stood united with France.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack as a "cynical crime," and pledged co-operation in fighting terrorism.

"I think all of Europe is crying today," Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said. "All the free world is crying. All men and women who believe in freedom and reason are crying."

Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel, The Satanic Verses, drew a death edict from Iran's religious authorities, said all must stand with Charlie Hebdo "to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity".

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French mosques, condemned the "hateful act," and urged Muslims and Christians "to intensify their actions to give more strength to this dialogue, to make a united front against extremism".

The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations, added its condemnation.

On social media, supporters of militant Islamic groups praised the move.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was trending as people expressed support for the weekly and for journalistic freedom. The weekly's website collapsed earlier today but was later restored.

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