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Dozens of 'Je Suis Charlie' vigils held worldwide after Paris gun attack

Amid mass rallies and condemnations worldwide, police identify three suspects in bloody attack that killed 12 in Paris
A participant at a vigil holds a candle, bearing a badge reading "Je Suis Charlie" [I am Charlie] (AFP)

People are taking to the streets in cities across the world to demonstrate under the banner “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), in the wake of Wednesday’s deadly attacks at the headquarters of satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Twelve people were killed when gunmen stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that was subject to frequent threats over its publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad.

A spokesperson for the French police told The Guardian on Wednesday night that forces had made three arrests, thought to be at a site over 100 kilometres from the scene of the attack near the border with Belgian - however, the Ministry of Interior denied this statement.

Local press are reporting that the suspects - aged 18, 32 and 34 - included two brothers.

According to AFP news agency, a source close to the case said the youngest suspect handed himself over to police at 2300 local time on Wednesday, after seeing his name circulated on social media.

French anti-terrorist police were seen carrying out raids in the eastern city of Reims, about 160km from Paris, in search of the other two suspects.

Paris police released the men's photos, and launched an appeal to the public for more information. They said arrest warrants had been issued for Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his 34-year-old brother Said, who were "likely armed and dangerous", AFP reported.

Police have idenfiied two suspects as Cherif Kouachi (L) and his brother, Said (AFP PHOTO/FRENCH POLICE)

Solidarity vigils held

In Paris, the city rocked by the bloodshed, hundreds gathered at Place de Republique, holding aloft pens and pencils in a symbol of commitment to freedom of speech.

Christopher Deloire, director of the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders, said Wednesday was “without a doubt the darkest day in the history of the French media”.

An interactive online map shows that solidarity demonstrations and vigils are planned as far apart as Canada, Egypt and Argentina.

Almost 1,000 people have said they will attend a solidarity event to be held in central London on Wednesday evening.

The US embassy in Paris denied reports that it would be closing its doors, and changed its profile picture on Twitter to an image of the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.

Charlie Hebdo’s website, down since the morning’s attack, was put back online later in the day, simply bearing a black screen with the words “Je Suis Charlie”.

News of the deadly attack, the perpetrators of which remain at large, dominated social media throughout the world on Wednesday, according to this image by TrendsMap, a tool that analyses mentions of words and phrases on Twitter.

'Savage' attacks

12 people, including two police officers guarding Charlie Hebdo's northern Paris offices, were killed when two hooded gunmen attacked the office after threatening a journalist outside in order to gain entry. 

Police believe a third person was involved and helped the gunmen to escape by driving their getaway vehicle.

Among the dead are the cartoonists Cabu, Tignous, Charb and Wolinski (all pseudonyms used in the paper) with the original author of the cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad among those killed, according to French media. 

(From top left) Cabu, Tignous, Charb and Wolinski, cartoonists all killed in Paris on Wednesday (AFP)

Bernard Maris, an economist and author who was also a shareholder in the magazine, was also killed.

Corinne "Coco" Rey, a cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo, told French newspaper L'Humanite that she and her daughter had been approached by armed gunmen at the door to the paper's building, and ordered to open the door.

"They wanted to go inside, to go upstairs," she said. "I entered the code".

"They fired on Wolinski, Cabu... It lasted five minutes... I sheltered under a desk... They spoke perfect French and claimed to be from al-Qaeda".

The gunmen reportedly shouted "Charlie Hebdo" at employees in other offices, looking for the Hebdo staff.

Video taken from a nearby building appears to show the killers escaping, apparently shouting "Allahu Akbhar".

The gunmen fled in a hijacked black four-door car, which they later abandoned in a northern Paris suburb. Police are now examining the car, whose back window has been smashed in, for any evidence.

Many other newspapers, including Le Monde and Liberation, are currently under a heavy security lockdown.

The headquarters of El Pais in Madrid, the capital of Spain, was also evacuated on Wednesday afternoon after receiving a "suspicious" package, Reuters reported.

Messages of condemnation pour in

As French police launched a large-scale hunt for the attackers, with promises of US support, condemnations of the killings poured in.

US President Barack Obama condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms". 

His Secretary of State John Kerry later spoke at length about the attacks, telling the people of France that "each and every American stands with you today...in solidarity and commitment to the cause of confronting extremism".

"Freedom has a price - France gave birth to democracy itself and sparked so many revolutions of the human spirit. This is what extremists fear the most".

Kerry echoed the words of a French imam who spoke out against the attacks, calling the slain journalists "martyrs for liberty".

Heads of state from Britain, Germany, Qatar and Russia were among those who publicly denounced the killings.

Pope Francis, figurehead of the Catholic church, was holding a public audience in Rome's St. Peter's Square - he strongly condemned the attacks.

A group of French imams who happened to be attending the gathering joined his denunciation, dubbing it "a vile attack, criminal and unpardonable".

Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, said that "contrary to what was apparently said by the killers...it is not the Prophet who was avenged - it is our religion, our values and Islamic principles that have been betrayed and tainted".

The editor-in-chief of The Daily Mash, a British satirical newspaper, expressed his shock but urged his colleagues to continue their work as normal.

Neil Rafferty said the attack was "beyond belief," saying his site is planning its response.