Witnesses at the magazine headquarters described a scene of carnage, with bullet holes and smashed windows.
Survivor and Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Corinne “Coco” Rey was quoted by French newspaper L’Humanite as saying: “I had gone to collect my daughter from day care and as I arrived in front of the door of the paper’s building two hooded and armed men threatened us.
“They wanted to go inside, to go upstairs, so I tapped in the code,’ said Ms Rey, referring to the digi-code security system on the interphone. She said she and her daughter hid under a desk from where they saw two other cartoonists being executed.
“They fired on Wolinski, Cabu ... it lasted five minutes ... I sheltered under a desk... They spoke perfect French... claimed to be from al-Qaida.”
Gunmen reportedly told another witness: ‘You say to the media, it was al-Qaida in Yemen.’
Gilles Boulanger, who works in the same building, likened the scene to a war zone. “A neighbour called to warn me that there were armed men in the building and that we had to shut all the doors,” he said.
“So then we looked out of the window and saw the shooting was on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, with the police. It was really upsetting. You’d think it was a war zone.”
Florence Pouvil, a salesperson at Lunas France on Rue Nicolas Appert, opposite the Charlie Hebdo offices, said: ‘I saw two people with big guns, like Kalashnikovs outside our office and then we heard firing. We were very confused.’
“There were two guys who came out of the building and shot everywhere. We hid on the floor, we were terrified.
‘They came from the building opposite with big guns. It has a bunch of different companies inside. Some of our co-workers work there so we were frightened for them.
“They weren’t just firing inside the Charlie Hebdo offices. They were firing in the street too.
“We feared for our lives so we hid under our desks so they wouldn’t see us. Both men were dressed in black from head to toe and their faces were covered so I didn’t see them.
“They were wearing military clothes, it wasn’t common clothing, like they were soldiers.’
Benoit Bringer, a journalist who works next door said: “There were very many people in the building. We evacuated via the roof just next to the office. After around 10 minutes we saw two heavily armed, masked men in the street’.
Another witness said: ‘There was a loud gunfire and at least one explosion. When police arrived there was a mass shootout. The men got away by car, stealing a car.’
French president Francois Hollande rushed to the scene of the attack. “France is today in shock, in front of a terrorist attack. This newspaper was threatened several times in the past. We need to show that we are a united country. We have to be strong,” he said.
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