NEW DELHI: On Wednesday, gunmen attacked the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people including the editor and celebrated cartoonists. One suspect, Hamyd Mourad, has since surrendered, and the hunt is on for the other two, brothers Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi.

The attack -- the deadliest such attack in France since 1961 during the Algerian war -- has shocked the world, with the incident dominating news headlines. French President François Hollande called it an act of "extreme barbarity", and world leaders have all issued strong condemnations.

What happened?

Corinne Rey, one of the magazine’s illustrators, told the media that two armed, masked men "brutally threatened" her in order to gain access to the building. The gunmen "spoke perfect French" and claimed to belong to al-Qaeda, Rey said.

Details are still sketchy, but gunshots were heard and the gunmen fled the scene by car, exchanging shots with the police on the street outside the magazine’s office. They later abandoned the car in Rue de Meaux, northern Paris, where they hijacked a second car.

Witnesses have said that they heard the gunmen shouting, "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "God is Great" in Arabic ("Allahu Akbar").

Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stephane Charbonnier, 47, was killed in the attack. Charbonnier had previously received death threats and was living under police protection.

The other killed include cartoonists known as Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski, as well as Charlie Hebdo contributor and French economist Bernard Maris.

Why it happened?

The magazine has courted controversy in the past for its irreverent take on news and current affairs. In November 2011, the magazine’s offices were firebombed after it published caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The magazine has also published cartoons pertaining to other religions, but in 2012, the magazine received threats after it published a series of satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, some of which depicted the Prophet in the nude.

The French government tried to pressure the magazine’s editor to not go through with the publication of the cartoons, and beefed up security at several embassies as well as closed embassies, schools and cultural centres in 20 countries when the editors decided to go ahead with publication.

The publication of the cartoons came on the heels of attacks on US embassies in the Middle East, purportedly in response to the anti-Islamic film “Innocence of Muslims.” When the magazine decided to go ahead with the publication of the cartoons, given the conext, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticised the move, saying, “In France, there is a principle of freedom of expression, which should not be undermined. In the present context, given this absurd video that has been aired, strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries. Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?"

The magazine’s editors, however, defended their decision, saying, “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation."

The news that the gunmen who carried out the January 2015 attack shouted "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "God is Great,” indicates that the attack was prompted by the magazine’s decision to carry the caricatures.

However, the larger context is far more complicated. It ranges from France’s difficulty in assimilating generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies and violence stemming from economic and social discrimination to a resurgence of violence dictated by ideology across the world.

Global condemnation

The incident drew widespread condemnation. US President Barack Obama offered any assistance needed "to help bring these terrorists to justice". UK Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted "The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press." UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon 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."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted:

The incident also drew widespread condemnation across social media, with this Tweet by activist Iyad El-Baghdadi summing up the incident in its scale and implications.

Cartoonist across the world took their medium to condemn the attack. The result is the most moving tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

David Pope – The Canberra Times

James MacLeod - The Evansville Courier.

Glen Le Lievre - The Sydney Morning Herald

Eugene Lee Yang – Buzzfeed.

Dave Brown – The Independent.

Joep Bertrams – Dutch political cartoonist.