Two French imams visiting the Vatican have called on Muslims to respond to the deadly attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo by rising up to express their disgust at the criminals who have "hijacked" their religion.

"Muslims are shocked and tired… the silent majority of them feel as if they are taken hostage," Tareq Oubrou, director of the Mosque of Bordeaux, said Jan. 7.

Muslims need to demonstrate in public squares to "express their disgust" at the attack, he said, adding that the criminal action strikes "Islam and French Muslims."

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of the French Mosque, emphasized that he was "frightened and shocked" by news of the attack, since he had just prayed with Pope Francis "for peace and brotherhood capable to consolidate and strengthen the world," with a special intention for Christians in the Middle East.

"If extremists keep on doubling their effort and intensifying their actions, violence and atrocities, Muslims must intensify their reaction to these barbaric acts, sometimes unfortunately perpetuated in the name of Islam," Moussaoui said.

The two religious leaders were among a delegation of four French imams making a two-day visit to the Vatican organized by the French bishops' conference's office for relations with Islam.

The Paris attack took place while the four imams were attending Pope Francis' general audience in Vatican City's Paul VI Hall. Oubrou and Mossaoui spoke about the attacks to the French news outlets La Croix and I-Media.

On Wednesday gunmen armed with a Kalashnikov and a rocket launcher attacked the Paris office of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They killed at least 12, including two police officers, and critically wounded four.

The attackers hijacked a car and sped away, shooting at police and running over a pedestrian, Agence France Presse reports.

According to police, witnesses said the attackers shouted phrases like "we have avenged the prophet" and "Allahu akbar," an Arabic phrase meaning "God is greatest."

The newspaper has a history of publishing provocative cartoons about Islam's Prophet Mohammed, as well as obscene cartoons about Popes and Catholic nuns. Its latest edition featured a front-page story on French author Michel Houellebecq, whose controversial new novel "Submission" portrays a France ruled by an Islamic government.

French officials placed Paris on the highest security alert status in the wake of the attack.

Oubrou worried about the attack's effects on France and on the French Muslim community.

"This act may split society and slow down the assimilation and integration of Muslims in French Society. Who benefits from this crime? Neither Islam, nor Muslims. Religions are made to unite people, and every act that would in the end split humanity is not a religious act," he said.

He said the Muslim community must "rise up" to express "disgust" for the hijacking of Islam by madmen.

Moussaoui similarly said Muslims need to react against what he characterized as criminals' instrumentalization of Islam.

Moussaoui said that French Muslims are "victims twice over" since on one side their religion is "exploited by criminals" and on the other they face "the populist attempt to take advantage from these criminal actions in order to worsen and reignite French society's splits and fears."
The French imams' delegation to the Vatican also met with members of the French Seminary in Rome and visited the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome.

The attack on the newspaper office drew worldwide condemnation.

Pope Francis voiced his "strongest condemnation" of the "horrible attack," Holy See Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi said Jan. 7. Fr. Lombardi expressed both the Pope's prayers for the victims and their families and his closeness to those who work for peace and justice in order to "heal in their depth the sources and causes of hate."
The French Bishops Conference also issued a statement condemning the attacks.
"This is obviously unspeakable terror. Nothing can justify such violence," the French bishops' conference said. "The barbarism expressed in these killings hurts us all."

"It affects more than freedom of expression, a fundamental element of our society," the bishops said, adding that French society consists of "diversity of all kinds" and "must continually work to build peace and brotherhood."