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What We Know About the Attack on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris Office
Gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, killing 12 and injuring another five. French police have named three suspects in the raid, which left the magazine’s editor in chief dead, and late Wednesday the youngest turned himself into police. Media reports indicate that the raid on the magazine’s newsroom, which left its editor ...
Gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, killing 12 and injuring another five. French police have named three suspects in the raid, which left the magazine’s editor in chief dead, and late Wednesday the youngest turned himself into police.
Media reports indicate that the raid on the magazine’s newsroom, which left its editor in chief dead, was an act of Islamist terrorism, as the attackers shouted, “Allahu akbar.” After carrying out the attack, the gunmen fled the scene. They were captured on video shouting Islamist slogans and claiming they had attacked the paper to avenge the Prophet Muhammed. Among those dead were two police officers. Graphic video captured the execution of one of the men as he lay on a Paris sidewalk after apparently being injured in an exchange of fire with the terrorists.
The three suspects include two brothers in their early 30s, Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, and an 18-year-old named Hamyd Mourad, according to the AP. The Kouachi brothers are Frenchmen, but the AP could not confirm Mourad’s nationality.
During the early hours of Thursday, French police released photographs of the Kouachi brothers:
According to witness reports, the gunmen were outfitted in black hoods and carried Kalashnikov assault rifles. Christophe Crepin, a police union spokesman, told the Associated Press that the attack was carried out while the magazine staff was in the middle of an editorial meeting and that the gunmen immediately targeted its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier. The attack lasted mere minutes.
One police official told the AP that the men have links to a Yemeni terror network, but their affiliations with a terrorist group remain unconfirmed. One witness to the attack, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Corinne Rey, told the French newspaper L’Humanité that the attackers had forced her to let them into the building, that they spoke French perfectly, and that they claimed to be al Qaeda. Another witness who saw the suspects hijack a car after the shooting wrote on Facebook that one of them told onlookers, “You can tell the media it’s al Qaeda in Yemen.”
This video, shot from a rooftop near the Charlie Hebdo offices, shows the gunmen as they are about to depart the scene and fire shots.
French President François Hollande rushed to the scene in Paris’s 11th arrondissement and called the events at Charlie Hebdo, an incendiary magazine with a history of publishing cartoons critical of Islam, a terrorist attack of “exceptional barbarity.” Hollande increased France’s terror alert to its highest level and convened an emergency meeting of his cabinet in the afternoon, Paris time.
In remarks before his nation Wednesday night, Hollande announced a day of mourning on Thursday. “We will win. Nothing will make us renounce our determination,” he said. “Long live the republic. Long live France.”
The attackers remain at large, and some 3,000 French police are currently carrying out a manhunt for the three gunmen reported to have been involved. The black Citroen car in which the attackers fled the scene was found in the 19th arrondissement, which is near the area of the French capital that houses the Charlie Hebdo offices. Police are examining the car.
One police official told Reuters that the men fled toward Paris’s eastern suburbs after carrying out the carjacking. According to the Guardian, the carjacking took place in the 19th arrondissement by the Buttes-Chaumont park. Late Wednesday night, television images showed French commandos carrying out an operation in the city of Reims, about 90 miles east of Paris.
Cherif Kouachi was previously known to the authorities, as he was convicted by a French court in 2008 of trying to travel to Iraq to fight in that country’s insurgent movement. Kouachi told the court that he wished to fight the American occupation after viewing images of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. According to Bloomberg, Kouachi had “alternated between periods of smoking marijuana” and attending the classes of a preacher and jihadi recruiter who was convicted in the same case of running a terrorist recruitment ring. Kouachi, who was 26 at the time of his conviction, told the court that he was relieved that he had been prevented from traveling to Iraq, that he had begun working at a supermarket, and that his main interest was rap music.
Despite the lack of details about the attackers and their motivations, France’s anti-immigrant right has seized on the incident to advance its populist agenda, which often relies on demonizing Muslims for political gain. “Time’s up for denial and hypocrisy,” Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front, said in a video released Wednesday. “The absolute rejection of Islamic fundamentalism must be proclaimed loudly and clearly.”
Muslim community leaders have roundly denounced the attack . “I am extremely angry. These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their soul to hell. This is not freedom. This is not Islam and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this,” Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris’s Seine-Saint-Denis northern suburb, told Reuters.
Speaking in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the attacks. “Today’s murders are part of a large confrontation … between civilization itself, and those opposed to the civilized world,” he said. In a statement, President Barack Obama offered U.S. assistance in bringing to justice the perpetrators of what he described as an “outrageous attack.” Obama and Hollande discussed the attack in a phone call Wednesday afternoon during which the American leader reiterated his offer to provide support to the French, according to a readout of the call provided by the White House.
FBI Director James Comey said in remarks at the International Conference on Cyber Security in New York that the bureau is working with French law enforcement to bring those responsible for the attack to justice. According to an FBI spokesman speaking on background, the bureau’s attaché in Paris is providing assistance to his French counterparts. “Currently we are conducting various database searches to provide our partners with any information available that may lead to the identification, apprehension, and ultimately prosecution of those responsible for this heinous crime,” the spokesman said.
Speaking together at the British Museum in London, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her U.K. counterpart, David Cameron, also condemned the attack. “We must never allow the values we hold dear, of democracy, of freedom of speech, to be damaged by these terrorists,” Cameron said. “We must stand against what they have done.”
These expressions of solidarity were matched by spontaneous protests throughout France. In Paris, thousands gathered at the Place de la République to denounce the attack.
–Foreign Policy staff writer David Francis contributed reporting to this post.
Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images