Verlhac, a French cartoonist known by his penname “Tignous,” was shot dead in an attack on the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo by heavily armed gunmen, according to news reports.
Paris prosecutor François Molins told reporters that two men wearing black balaclavas and armed with Kalashnikov machine guns entered the newsroom around 11:30 a.m., The Guardian reported. At the entrance, the attackers killed one person–whom Molins did not name–and proceeded to the second floor, where a Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting was taking place, reports said.
The Guardian reported that among the victims were Verlhac; Stephane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, known by his penname “Charb”; Bernard Maris, a shareholder and columnist who wrote under the penname “Uncle Bernard”; cartoonists Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, and Georges Wolinski; Moustapha Ourrad, a copy editor and proofreader for the weekly; and Elsa Cayat and Philippe Honoré, columnists for the paper.
Following the attack, the killers fled to the street, where they shot and killed a police officer before getting away in a black car, reports said.
No organization immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. News reports cited witnesses as saying the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” and referred to the Prophet Muhammad.
Verlhac’s cartoons appeared regularly in Charlie Hebdo as well as in the weekly magazine Marianne, the monthly comics magazine Fluide Glacia, and the daily L’Humanité, according to news reports. He also published several books of his cartoons, including one of a collection of his drawings depicting the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, according to local news reports. Verlhac was a member of the freedom of expression organization Cartooning for Peace.
Charlie Hebdo has been under threat from Islamic extremists and under police protection since the magazine was fire-bombed in 2011, a day after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad and a spoof edition “guest edited” by the Prophet, according to news reports.
The attack occurred in a highly tense and politically volatile climate in a country confronted with the departure of hundreds of French citizens to fight with Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq; controversies around the place of Islam in French society; and the rise of the nationalist political party National Front, which topped the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament.
Charlie Hebdo‘s most recent cover featured a cartoon on writer Michel Houellebecq, whose new book published the same day as the attack, Soumission (Submission), imagined the victory of a Muslim president by 2022 in France, according to news reports.
In the days following the attack, police identified two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, as the gunmen, according to news reports. On January 9, 2015, following a standoff with police during which the brothers held one hostage, the two were shot dead in a printing warehouse northeast of Paris, news reports said. The hostage was freed. On the same day, police also shot dead Amedy Coulibaly, who had taken hostages at a supermarket in Paris on January 9 and was accused of having killed a police officer the day before, news reports said.
Coulibaly and Chérif Kouachi were both followers of Djamel Beghal, a French-Algerian who served a 10-year prison term in France in 2001 for participating in a plot to bomb the U.S. embassy, according to news reports.
On January 14, 2015, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, issued a statement in which it claimed responsibility for the attack, according to news reports. The statement said the attack was ordered by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and was in response to the publication’s caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.