Paris church minister: Charlie Hebdo attack shows extremism has 'hit home'

Twelve people were killed and more than ten injured in a shooting at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo today.Reuters

A church minister in Paris has told Christian Today that he is concerned about possible attacks against places of worship in light of today's shooting at Charlie Hebdo.

Jim Cowie, Minister of the Scots Kirk, Paris, lives less than 20 minutes from the site of the attack. He said that France is upping security at places of worship, as well as shops, media offices and transportation, but that it's unlikely everywhere will be sufficiently covered.

"In the past there have been attacks on Jewish synagogues, though I don't think any churches have been attacked," he said today.

"The great concern is that Paris is a big place, there are lots of churches, synagogues and places [of worship] for different religions. We're a very small congregation in Paris, and they targeted a high profile place. [But] it would seem that they targeted the magazine because of the cartoons, and I'm not aware of any churches that have spoken against Islam in the same way."

Cowie added that though tensions have risen in Paris over recent years, day to day relationships with Muslims haven't given him cause for concern. "Relations around here are okay generally," he said. "Already the Muslim leader has condemned the attack [Paris imam Hassan Chalgoumi said of the attackers: "We must be firm with them, because they want terror, they want racism, they want to pit people against each other."] and Muslims in general are very moderate. The problem they're suggesting on TV is that like in Britain, people are going to Syria where they are radicalised, and are then coming back and continuing that kind of radicalisation.

"In every country there are rising concerns about immigrants of different nationalities, faiths and languages, and there always has been a degree of tension, in Paris we've lived with that for a long time."

Cowie said his church would be committing to prayer in the coming days, and added that today's events have meant that the atrocities being committed by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria have "hit home".

"It brings it more to the forefront," he explained. "Certainty, we're praying for the victims and for the tensions that are in Paris and in different places. We, and churches across Britain too, have been asked to pray for fellow Christians in Syria who are persecuted there. It hits home this way."

Three armed men opened fire at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris this morning. Police have confirmed that 12 people died in the incident, including two police officers and the cartoonist responsible for some controversial images depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Witnesses have reported that the gunmen shouted "we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" as they carried out their attack. In a video showing them opening fire on police outside the offices following the incident, shouts of "Allahu Akbar" – "God is great" – can be heard.

French President Francois Hollande has denounced the attack.

"Nobody in France should think that they can behave against the principle of the Republic and harm the spirit of the Republic, embodied by a newspaper," he said.

"Today I am thinking about the victims... We should do whatever we can to find those responsible and to call for national unity.

A statement from the Conference of Bishops of France expressed the "deep emotion and horror provoked by the attack at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo".

"This is obviously unspeakable terror. Nothing can justify such violence," the statement said. "Moreover, it affects freedom of expression, a fundamental element of our society.

"This society, made up of diversity of all kinds, must continually work to build peace and brotherhood. Barbarism thus expressed in the killing hurts us all."

The Vatican has also condemned the shootings as a "double act of violence, abominable because it is both an attack against people as well as against freedom of the press".

Amnesty International said that this morning's attack was "a chilling assault on freedom of expression".

"This is a dark day for freedom of expression and a vibrant press culture. But above all, it is an appalling human tragedy," said Stephan Oberreit, Director of Amnesty International France.

"It is an atrocity that sought to kill journalists, suppress freedom of expression and sow fear. It must be utterly condemned and the French authorities must ensure all those responsible are brought to justice in a fair trial. Journalists under threat must be protected and allowed to carry out their work without fear of deadly violence."

US President Barack Obama today said: "France is America's oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world. Time and again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended."