Two armed men shot and killed twelve people on the staff of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France on January 7, 2015 at approximately 10:30 UTC. These men fired up to fifty shots with AK-47 rifles, a shotgun, and a RPG launcher outside and inside the paper’s office. After killing a police officer, they escaped and drove away in a black vehicle. Witnesses noted that they heard the covered men scream, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is Great” in Arabic. This crime resulted from a religious controversy in which the newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which was offensive to Islam. On 7 January 2015, the paper released their final cartoon before the shooting: a cartoon of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Gunmen killed the cartoonist, Philippe Honore, later that day. This is not the first controversy faced by Charlie Hebdo; they released numerous controversial cartoons, which led to temporary school and embassy closures in 2012, a petrol bomb attack on the newspaper in 2011, and a lawsuit filed in 2007.
After the attack, the French government killed three terrorists: the Kouachi brothers and a suspect involved in a shooting of four hostages and a policewoman. The Kouachi brothers (in their thirties) were linked to Islamist extremists; the elder brother had weapon training with al Qaeda and the younger brother had a massive history of anti-Semitism. He explained in a desposition, “I was ready to go and die in battle…I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television…I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.” Another suspect, an 18-year old, surrendered himself to the police.
French President, Francois Hollande, stated, “Everything will be done to arrest…We also have to protect all public places. Security forces will be deployed everywhere there can be the beginning.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama responded to a crowd in Tennessee, “We stand for freedom and hope and dignity of all human beings that’s what Paris stands for.”
In the aftermath of the attack, millions (including 40 world leaders) gathered for a rally beginning at Place de la Republic and ending at Place de la Nation in Paris. In fact, there are approximately 4.7 million Muslim people in France, making it the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. As a result, Twitter flooded with the hashtag, “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), to show support and sympathy to the victims. Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist, categorizes the world community’s response to the attack in two ways: One segment of the society wants people to respect religions and notice that crossing the line will cause outbreaks. However, another group states that a free society should be defended without “qualifications.”
The French government is now planning to hold discussions about the prevention of future attacks and healing the many families touched by the massacre.