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French Government Organizes Massive Manhunt To Find Gunmen

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

French police are searching for three men who attacked the offices of a French satirical weekly in Paris earlier today. The three masked gunmen shouted Islamist slogans as they killed 12 people, including cartoonists at the paper and also police guarding them. The attack has been condemned by President Obama and other world leaders. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. And, Eleanor, take us through today's events.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Robert, at about 11:30 a.m. Paris time, three masked gunmen showed up at the offices of this satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo. They got in. The first thing they did was shoot the policeman that was prominently guarding the building. And they went upstairs to the newsroom. And they had Kalashnikov rifles and they opened fire in the newsroom. And witnesses said that they called out several journalists' names before killing them.

Then they came down into the street where they got into a car. But before they left, they shot a policeman - the second one - at point-blank range. And then when he was down on the sidewalk, came back up to him and shot him again in the head. A witness was filming this from his apartment. And in the video, you can hear the men saying in French, we've avenged the prophet. And then they say, we've killed Charlie Hebdo. And then they drove away.

SIEGEL: What do we know about the hunt for these men?

BEARDSLEY: Well, there is a massive manhunt going on. The assailants apparently drove to the north of Paris and had wreck with a motorist on the way and then left their car and took another car. And from there, there is no trace of them. There is, like I said, a massive manhunt going on. The government has organized a terrorist cell unit that is looking for them. There's a hotline you can call, and the city and the region - the Paris region - are under the top terrorist alert, which means imminent attack, so there's a lot of fear out there. Those guys are still at large.

SIEGEL: Eleanor, I want you to tell us a little about this publication, Charlie Hebdo, which had offended many different groups of peoples before. Why were Muslims so offended by it?

BEARDSLEY: Right, it's a very clever publication, but it's also crude. And I think first, one reason they're offended is because, you know, the Prophet Muhammad is not to be drawn. He's not to be depicted. So Christians may be used to seeing Jesus and Mary drawn, but to see the prophet drawn - so the first trouble they got in was in 2007, they republished some Danish cartoons showing the prophet. And then they did their own depictions of him. There's one cartoon that shows the prophet, he's got his head in his hands. He's going, it's so hard to be loved by so many idiots. But that just really offended Muslims, even, you know, Muslims who were not very practicing. But the fundamentalists just hated this publication.

SIEGEL: There was another in which the prophet has returned, and he's being beheaded by - presumably by somebody from ISIS in the cartoon.

BEARDSLEY: Oh, yeah.

SIEGEL: So what's been the reaction from the French people to this attack today?

BEARDSLEY: You know, there's been these huge vigils around France, and I went to Place de la Republique tonight. And I've been in France 10 years, and I have never been in a crowd that large. And you know the French love to demonstrate. But there is a feeling of togetherness - it's sort of a defiance. Everyone out there was chanting, we are all Charlie. And people were holding up signs and saying, Je suis Charlie, I am Charlie. So there is, like - we will not be muzzled, we will not shut up. We will not have our press, you know, shot down like this. We are a country of liberty and freedom of expression, and you really feel that in people.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.