World Leaders, Media Groups Condemn 'Barbaric' Paris Attack

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U.S. President Barack Obama led global condemnation of the shooting at a French magazine on Wednesday which left 12 people dead, with world leaders and media groups branding it an act of terror and an attack on free speech.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Queen Elizabeth II also offered their sympathy, after masked men armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles opened fire at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

French President Francois Hollande condemned as a "terrorist attack" the massacre at the publication, which has been in confrontation for years with Islamists who accused it of attacking their religion.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the shooting was a "brazen assault on free expression in the heart of Europe", while Reporters Without Borders called it a "black day."

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

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later addressed the people of France in French, saying: "All Americans stand by your side."

United Nations chief Ban said: "It was a horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime. It was also a direct assault on a cornerstone of democracy, on the media and on freedom of expression."

He added: "This horrific attack is meant to divide. We must not fall into that trap."

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the shooting as "sickening" and "barbaric", while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it "despicable", sentiments reflected across European capitals.

In a rare statement on international events, Queen Elizabeth also offered her "sincere condolences" to the families of those killed and to the survivors of the attack.

In Canada, where young radical Muslims staged two attacks that left two soldiers dead, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was "horrified."

The gunmen were heard to shout "we have avenged the prophet" and "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest"), according to French police.

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious center of learning, called the attack "criminal" and said "Islam denounces any violence," while the Arab League also condemned the attack.

The foreign ministry of Qatar, which is accused of backing radical Islamic groups, added: "Such acts that target unarmed civilians contradict all principles and moral and human values."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country condemned all forms of "terror", but said terrorism and increasing Islamophobia in Europe were "interconnected."

"We must fight against increasing racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe which threaten all our values. We must also fight against any form of terrorism," he said.

Salman Rushdie, the British-Indian writer who was forced into hiding after Iran issued a death sentence on him for allegedly insulting Islam, hailed Charlie Hebdo's style.

"I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity," he said. 

"'Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning 'fear of religion'. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect."

Media rights groups also condemned the attack.

"The scale of the violence is appalling," said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Journalists must now stand together to send the message that such murderous attempts to silence us will not stand."

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, said: "A newsroom attack with machine guns is a type of violence we witness in Iraq, Somalia or Pakistan.

"This terrorist attack marks a black day in the history of France."

Stephan Oberreit, director of Amnesty International France, added: "It is an atrocity that sought to kill journalists, suppress freedom of expression and sow fear."

Security was reportedly stepped up Wednesday at the Danish newspaper that provoked angry and sometimes deadly protests worldwide by publishing a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

Charlie Hebdo had reprinted the cartoons in 2006.

"Completely defenseless and innocent people became the victims of what appears to be an attack on free speech," said Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

"The French society, like ours, is open, democratic and based on a free and critical press. Those are values that are deeply rooted in all of us, and which we shall protect."

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