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12 dead in machine-gun attack on French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo

media The scene outside Charlie Hebdo's offices after the attack AFP

Twelve people have been killed and four were in critical condition on Wednesday afternoon after two masked men armed with automatic weapons attacked the premises of satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, French police said.

Two police officers are reported to be among the dead, as were cour of the paper's best-known cartoonists, who were known as Charb, Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous.

Visiting the site of the attack near Paris’s Place de la Bastille, President François Hollande said there was no doubt that the incident was a “terrorist attack” and condemned its “exceptional barbarity”.

“We will punish the attackers,” he declared promising to “pursue them for as long as is needed”.

Several attacks have been foiled in the last few weeks, Hollande told reporters, adding that “We knew we were threatened.”

Prime Minister Manuel Valls raised the terror alert in the Paris region to its highest level following the attack.

Two men with their faces concealed by balaclava helmets stormed the offices, opening fire with automatic weapons, reports said, with some saying they had a rocket-launcher.

They are reported to have escaped in a stolen vehicle and to have headed for the north-east of the city.

Charlie Hebdo, which prides itself on its provocative mockery of all religions, was firebombed in 2011 following its publication of a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed on its front page.

Its latest edition featured a cartoon of the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus Christ.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to condemn the attack.

"I'm sure the whole House will want join me in condemning the barbaric attack this morning on an office of a magazine in Paris," he told the British parliament on Wednesday.

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