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*President Obama has released a statement condemning the terrorist attack against a satirical newspaper in Paris, killing 12 people.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and the people of France at this difficult time,” Obama said.

Masked gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar!” stormed the Paris offices of the weekly paper Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, killing 12 people – including the editor, at least one cartoonist and two police officers guarding the paper before escaping. Toting automatic weapons, the attackers went to the second floor and started firing indiscriminately in the newsroom, said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.

It was France’s deadliest terror attack in at least two decades.

The video still image shows the blurred-out image of a kneeling Paris police officer being shot by the fleeing gunmen

The video still image shows the blurred-out image of a kneeling Paris police officer being shot by the fleeing gunmen

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. However, French President Francois Hollande called the attack on the paper, whose caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed have frequently drawn condemnation from Muslims, “a terrorist attack without a doubt.” He said several other attacks have been thwarted in France “in recent weeks.”

France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve says security forces are hunting for three gunmen. The country raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation. Top government officials were holding an emergency meeting and Hollande planned a nationally televised address in the evening. Schools across the French capital closed their doors.

President Obama said that the United States and France stand together “in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world.”

“France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers,” he said. “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.”

While President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack, supporters of the militant Islamic State group celebrated the slayings as well-deserved revenge against France.

The Islamic State group has repeatedly threatened to attack France. Just minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of that extremist group’s leader giving New Year’s wishes.

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Another cartoon, released in this week’s issue and entitled “Still No Attacks in France,” had a caricature of an extremist fighter saying, “Just wait – we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.”

The 12 dead included two men who went by the pen names: Charb – the editor and a cartoonist as well – and the cartoonist Cabu, spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre of the Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed.

Two police officers were also among the dead, including one assigned as Charb’s bodyguard after prior death threats against him, a police official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Video images on the website of public broadcaster France Televisions 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 among the gunshots.

Watch below: [Warning, the images are disturbing.]

Luc Poignant of the SBP police union said the attackers left in a waiting car and later switched to another vehicle that had been stolen.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I Am Charlie) began trending as people expressed support for weekly and for journalistic freedom.

Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other controversial sketches. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after a spoof issue featuring a caricature of the prophet on its cover. Nearly a year later, the publication again published crude Muhammad caricatures, drawing denunciations from around the Muslim world.