Twelve people, editorial staff and two police officers, were killed on Wednesday January 7th when two armed gunmen burst into the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire with assault rifles. Four others were in a critical condition and seven more were less seriously injured. Initial reports said just the two gunmen were involved but witnesses say there was also a third man, whose role may have been as getaway driver. Among those killed in the attack at the offices in rue Nicolas-Appert in Paris's 11th arrondissement just after 11am were the magazine's editor 'Charb', real name Stéphane Charbonnier, and prominent cartoonists Jean Cabut – 'Cabu' - Georges Wolinski, Philippe Honoré and Bernard Verlhac, who worked under the name 'Tignous'.
Three suspects were identified late Wednesday in the hunt for the gunmen, and also a 19-year-old suspected of being the driver of the car that was filmed arriving in front of the magazine’s offices from which two gunmen began the assault. He reportedly presented himself to police hours later in the town of Charleville-Mézières, in the Ardennes region of eastern France. The two other suspects are Saïd Kouachi, 34, and his brother Chérif Kouachi, 32. According to French weekly magazine Le Point, the latter was sentenced in 2008 to a three-year jail sentence, 18 months of which was suspended, for his involvement in a recruitment network for jihadists in Iraq.
Elite police commandos began a search operation late on Wednesday of a building situated in Reims, in the Champagne region east of Paris, where an apartment was sealed off and examined by forensics officers, while the hunt for suspects Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi continued. Meanwhile it was revealed that seven people, men and women, said to be known to the two main suspects were detained for questioning late on Wednesday evening.
In all eight members of the Charlie Hebdo editorial team were murdered along with a worker at the front office, a visitor to the magazine and the two police officers. The general secretary of the journalists' organisation Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) - Reporters without Borders - Christophe Deloire, said the murders were a “barbaric” attack on the French press that was “without precedent”. Addressing the nation on television on Wednesday evening François Hollande announced that Thursday would be a day of mourning in France and that the nation's flags would fly at half-mast for three days.
The magazine's former offices had been fire-bombed in November 2011 and its website hacked after a controversial edition “guest edited by Muhammad”. In 2012 it provoked further outrage when it ran satirical cartoons of Muhammad. The most recent tweet on Charlie Hebdo's account showed a cartoon of the Islamic State militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Witnesses on Wednesday say that the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) as they fled the offices. Another witness claimed one of them had said that the Prophet had been “avenged”.
According to Libération, the two “calm and determined” gunmen who went into the building and who forced an employee to take them up to the editorial conference room were deliberately targeting 'Charb'. The newspaper cited an anti-terrorism source who said the pair had called out: “Where is Charb? He's where, Charb?” Once they had shot the editor the two men then turned their guns on other members of the editorial team. By chance or by design the gunman had entered the building just as 15 member of the magazine's team were attending an editorial conference. One Charlie Hebdo journalist, Laurent Léger, who was there at the time, managed to call a close friend. “Call the police. It's carnage. Everyone's dead.” Then the line went dead.
After three brief separate shoot-outs with police officers called to deal with the incident, the gunmen made off in the black Citroën C3 car they had arrived in. They ran over a pedestrian, badly injuring him, then abandoned their car in rue de Meaux, in the 19th arrondissement, after crashing. Inside they had left a magazine for their assault rifle, still full of bullets. The attackers then hijacked a motorist and made off in his grey Clio. It was soon after this, just before midday, that the police lost track of their movements until the discovery of an identity card left behind by one of the men in their abandoned getaway car put officers on the trail of the trio.
Arriving at the scene soon after the attack, President François Hollande said there was no doubt that it was a “terrorist attack” and described it as a crime of “exceptional barbarity” in the centre of Paris “against a newspaper, against journalists”.
Calling for “national unity” and solidarity with the victims of the attack, and promising that the attackers would be hunted down, President Hollande revealed that “several terrorist attacks have been foiled in recent weeks”. He said: “We are threatened, as in other countries in the world, because we're a country of freedom. No one must think that they can act in France against the principles of our Republic.” Later, during his television appearance on Wednesday evening, Hollande told viewers: “Our best weapon is unity. Nothing can divide us, nothing must divide us, nothing must separate us.”
It is the deadliest terrorist attack in France for more than 50 years, since the paramilitary organisation the OAS, which was opposed to Algerian independence from France, planted a bomb under a high-speed Paris to Strasbourg train on June 18th, 1961, killing 28 people.
On Wednesday afternoon members of the government were summoned to an emergency meeting at the Elysée and in the Paris region the security alert has been raised to the maximum level. Security at the offices of media organisations, places of worship, on public transport and in shopping centres was stepped up. The French flag flew at half-mast at the Elysée Palace, the prime minister's official residence Matignon, the National Assembly, the French Senate and the French Foreign Office, as well as at public buildings across France.
A video of the two attackers:
One cartoonist who survived the attack, Corinne Rey, known as 'Coco', described how she was forced to let the two gunmen into the building. Speaking to L'Humanité newspaper, she said: “I had gone to fetch my daughter from the nursery, and when we arrived back at the magazine's entrance two masked and armed men brutally threatened us. They wanted to get in, to go up. I keyed in the code [editor's note, on the door's keypad lock]. They shot at Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes .. I sought refuge under a desk … they spoke perfect French … they claimed allegiance to Al Qaeda.”
Ludovic Manche, a local resident who was in his flat at boulevard Richard-Lenoir, just behind Charlie Hebdo's offices, said he heard “40 or 50” gunshots. “At first I thought it was fireworks for the Chinese New Year,” he said. “From the window I could see the police pursuing the criminals. There were two of them, with balaclavas, and one had a military rifle. There was shooting in all directions. People were hiding behind cars in the streets. Then the gunmen left in a black Citroën.”
Another victim of the attack was meanwhile named as 68-year-old veteran economist Bernard Maris, a commentator for public radio station France Inter, who also contrbuted to Charlie Hebdo under the name 'oncle Bernard' or 'Uncle Bernard'.
One of the two policemen killed was an officer who had been assigned to protect one of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo after the earlier attacks on the magazine. The other policeman who was killed was one of the officers who had been called to the scene, leading to a shoot-out with the gunmen. In the images below the two gunmen can be seen cold-bloodedly shooting a policemen who is lying on the ground before returning to their car:
After the attack the two gunmen were filmed calmly driving away in a car, one of them even taking the time to stop and pick up something from the ground before getting into the vehicle.
Solidarity for the satirical magazine sprang up on social media with a 'Je suis Charlie' ('I am Charlie') page on Facebook attracting more than 7,000 likes within a few hours. The backdrop to the page was one of the magazine's own cartoons by Cabu, who was killed in the attack. It shows a Muslim kissing a member of the Charlie Hebdo editorial team under the words “Love – stronger than hate”. Meanwhile on Twitter a simple image with the words “Je suis Charlie” was being tweeted around the word as a gesture of support for the dead. The hashtag #jesuischarlie was used 45,000 times in just one hour early on Wednesday afternoon.
On Wednesday evening tens of thousands of people gathered in cities across France in a show of spontaneous solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. In the Place de la République in Paris at least 35,000 people gathered to display their support, many of them carrying black placards with the words 'Je suis Charlie' on them. Similar gatherings took place in other cities, including Lyon, Besançon, Nantes, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Lille, Poitiers, Brest, Montpellier, Saint-Brieuc, Orléans, Strasbourg and Clermont-Ferrand, with some attracting more than 10,000 people. Some carried pens or pencils, symbols of the freedom of the press that came under attack amid the carnage at the satirical magazine. But there were gatherings abroad too, notably in Brussels, Madrid and Berlin, as the horrific events in Paris struck a chord of sympathy around the world.
The prime minister Manuel Valls has also asked political figures from across the spectrum in France to take part in a 'Republican march' of solidarity next Saturday January 10th, including the president of the right-wing UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has accepted the invitation.
A prominent association, the anti-racist and anti-Semitic group Lutte contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme (LICRA), meanwhile warned against people lumping together extremist terrorists with mainstream Muslims in the aftermath of the attack. “It is going to be more and more difficult to be Muslim in our country, and that's not good news,” said LICRA's president Alain Jakubowicz. “There's a major fear that once against Islam will be described as being at the origin of this monstrosity.”
The French Council for the Muslim Faith – the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM) – said in a statement that it “condemns with the greatest possible determination the terrorist attack of exceptional violence committed against the newspaper Charlie Hebdo”. The council continued: “This barbarous act of extreme gravity is also an attack against freedom and the freedom of the press. In an international political context of tension fed by the excesses of terrorist groups that unfairly use Islam to justify themselves, we call on those who are attached to the values of the Republic and to democracy to avoid provocative acts which will only serve to throw fuel on the fire. Faced with this tragedy of national proportions we call on the Muslim community to show great vigilance faced with potential attempts at manipulation by groups with extremist aims, whoever they might be.”
At home, French politicians from all parts of the political spectrum queued up to condemn the attacks and urge national unity in the wake of the attack. Economy minister Emmanuel Macron said he was left “horrified” and “speechless” by the murders. Former minister Cécile Duflot, from the green EELV party, said she was “completely in shock” at the news. Meanwhile former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the new president of the main opposition party the UMP, described the attack as a “national tragedy” and an “attack on democracy”, appealing for the nation to pull together. But he also warned people against making easy links between the perpetrators involved and other sections of society – referring to French Muslims.
Reaction from the rest of the world was swift. British prime minister David Cameron said in a tweet: “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.” He and German chancellor Angela Merkel both telephoned President Hollande to show their solidarity with the French people. Meanwhile Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi visited the French Embassy in Rome and declared: “We are all French”.
United States president Barack Obama condemned what he called this “horrific shooting”. He said in a statement: “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.” He said US national security officials were already in contact with French counterparts, and added: “I have directed my administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice.” Obama concluded: “France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers.”
In Brussels the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement: “I am profoundly shocked by the brutal and inhuman attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.”
English version by Michael Streeter