The deadly shooting at Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo appears to be linked to Islamist militants reacting to France’s close involvement in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), experts say.
On Wednesday, hooded gunmen stormed the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, known for lampooning radical Islam, and killed 12 people before fleeing the scene, in France’s deadliest attack in decades.
Although no party has claimed responsibility for the deadly incident, which the French president has described as a “terrorist attack,” analysts say the attacks bears the marks of Islamist militants, spurred by Paris’ growing military involvement against jihadists in the Middle East.
“The [Charlie Hebdo] act bears the hallmark of jihadism at work in Syria and Iraq,” Middle East expert Samir Saul told Al Arabiya News.
“European volunteers bring back to Europe methods learned in Syria and Iraq,” Saul added.
The gunmen, who are still at large, had shouted "Allahu akbar" as they fired, the Associated Press reported.
But the attack could also be just a reaction to satirical cartoons the newspaper has published. Hours before the carnage the newspaper tweeted a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issuing a New Year's greeting, with the caption reading: "And especially, health!"
It is not the first time Charlie Hebdo has come under attack. In 2011, the weekly was firebombed a day after it carried a caricature of the Prophet Mohammad.
Growing numbers of French youths have reportedly joined the fight with Islamist rebel groups in Syria and Iraq.
Middle East expert Samir Saul said the French government “needs at least to stop the flow of French jihadists” in order to minimize the threat level.
So far, around 234 French fighters have left the conflict zone, with 185 now back in France.
Walid Abbas, deputy chief editor of the Paris-based, Arabic-speaking radio station Monte Carlo Doualiya, told Al Arabiya News that terror attacks would likely continue on French soil as long as France continues its growing involvement “in combatting terrorist organizations.”
“What happened this morning was expected and is just the result of the important role France is playing in combatting terrorist organizations, whether it is the Middle East or in Africa,” he said.
“France is very active in combating ISIS, which can explain the ongoing terror acts and threats on the French territory,” Abbas said.
French warplanes began air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq a few months ago when around 60 mainly Western and Arab states formed a coalition to combat the group, which is occupying swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria for its so-called Islamic “caliphate.”
The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS was forged after the group made rapid territorial gains in Iraq and beheaded a number of Westerners, among them journalists.
In December, President Francois Hollande said France was ready to step up its actions against ISIS.
Experts said Wednesday’s shooting would only bolster freedom of expression in the European country.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are main pillars in France and such terror acts should push France to hold on even more to these pillars,” Abbas said.
“Satire is part of journalism and this newspaper [Charlie Hebdo] has the right to publish what it wants,” he added.
Charlie Hebdo is a left-leaning French weekly satirical magazine known for its provocative tone and anti-religious stance. France’s media is generally regarded as free and represents a wide range of political opinion.
Analysts also said French authorities should avoid knee jerk reactions that might target the country’s Muslim community after the violent attack in the French capital.
“Even though some radical Muslims chose to respond to the caricatures [of Baghdadi] with violent acts, the government will hopefully instruct the police and the security forces not to target innocent Muslims in France through more controls of ‘Muslim-looking individuals,’” Yahia Zoubir, professor of international relations and director of research in geopolitics at EUROMED, told Al Arabiya News.
The government should rather seek the cooperation of the religious leaders to call for calm, Zoubir said, adding that France would likely “tighten security in the country.”
On Wednesday, Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's premier Islamic institution, strongly condemned the shooting.
There are about 5 million Muslims in France, about 8 percent of the population, which is the largest Muslim community in Europe.