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Everything You Need to Know About the Charlie Hebdo Attack


Last updated: Friday, January 9, 2015 at 4:00 a.m. EST

On Wednesday, in an act of revenge over a provocative cartoon negatively depicting Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, gunmen stormed into the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed nearly an entire room of writers and editors, including Stéphane "Charb" Charbonnier, the cartoon's artist as well as several other of the magazine's most well-known cartoonists. Below, we've put together everything we know about the attack so far:

January 7

Around 11:30 a.m., two gunmen made their way to the Charlie Hebdo offices, originally heading to the wrong building (one next door) before catching cartoonist Corinne Rey keying the security code into the correct building. Dressed in all black and carrying AK-47 assault rifles, they pushed her aside and ran into the offices, killing the building's security guard and going up the stairs shouting, "Where is Charb? Where is Charb?" The gunmen came upon the editors in their early editorial meeting, gunned down Charbonnier and almost everybody else in the room, sparing only the women (though one woman did die during the attack). During and after the shooting, they were reported to have shouted phrases like, "Allahu Akbar" (Arabic for "God is Great") and "We avenged the Prophet Muhammad." In all, twelve people were killed; two police officers and 10 Charlie Hebdo employees. Eleven were injured.

Later that evening, police identified three suspects: brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi (ages 34 and 32), and Hamyd Mourad (age 18). Said's ID was found in a car that was left at the site of the shooting. Mourad turned himself into the police that night after seeing his name come up in the media. Classmates have come to his defense, saying that he is innocent and claiming he was in class at the time of the shooting.

As the world watched in dismay, many international leaders came forward to condemn the acts: French President Francois Hollande called the event a "terrorist operation," while President Obama declared the attack "outrageous" and offered his public support as an ally of France in the country's time of crisis. The French Council for the Muslim Faith also came forward to criticize the heinous attack. 

January 8

The manhunt continued as France and the international community remained shocked over the event; meanwhile, early Thursday morning, a police officer was killed while another was wounded in the suburbs, only fueling the nation's fear. There was, however, no immediate connection to the previous day's events. Marine Le Pen, a far-right political leader in France, called for an "absolute refusal of radical Islamic fundamentalism," and suggested that the country bring back the death penalty, which was abolished in 1981. 

#JeSuisCharlie, which translates to "I am Charlie," began trending on Twitter as social media users sent an outpouring of support and aimed to demonstrate solidarity. #JeSuisAhmed surfaced as well, recognizing French Muslim Ahmed Merabet, one of the policemen killed in the attack. President Hollande declared Thursday a day of mourning, and France held a country-wide minute of silence at noon for the victims and those affected; many held pens in the air to show support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the French Council for the Muslim Faith called on French Muslims to take part in political demonstrations against the attack as well. During the night, the Eiffel Tower went dark in remembrance. 

After the gunmen allegedly held up a gas station late in the morning, where they stole gas and food, police forces swarmed local villages, including the largely rural Crépy-en-Valois, where it was believed the Kouachi brothers were located in the nearby woods. As an extra precaution, the French police dispatched more than 80,000 officers to increase security. It's confirmed that a total of nine people are in police custody at this point. At this time, it appears that the gunmen are still at large.

Charlie Hebdo's lawyer claimed that despite Wednesday's attack, one million copies of the publication would be printed for next Wednesday; the magazine's typical circulation is closer to 45,000. In a joint statement, Radio France, Le Monde and France Télévisions said that they would do whatever it took to help keep Charlie Hebdo running, lending both its equipment and its staff.

Amidst discussion of what free speech means, media sites and publications were struggling with whether or not to publish the image that prompted the attack. Some, like The Daily Beast, are going as far as to call publications who don't publish the image cowardly—while others, like the Associated Press, CNN, ABC and others have either removed images or simply not posted them in the first place. The New York Times defended their decision not to publish the offending cover as a company policy.

What else do we know?

  • Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy; in 2006, the magazine was threatened when it republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, after they were first published in Denmark. Then, in 2011, they were hit with fire bombs after publishing an issue requesting the Prophet to be a guest editor. The magazine was created after satirical magazine Hara-Kiri was banned when it mocked the death of President Charles de Gaulle and the loss of more than 100 people in a discotheque fire in 1970. Hara-Kiri's editors came together to create Charlie Hebdo.
  • Both the Kouachi brothers are French citizens. They are listed in the U.S. database for suspected international terrorists as well as hold places on the no-fly list. It's unclear which, but at least one of the brothers spent time in Syria in the past year, and one was in Yemen sometime in 2005. Their parents died when they were still young.
  • Cherif, the younger brother, has been linked to terrorism (and spent time in jail for it) in the past, with an arrest in 2005 at age 22 for attempting to travel to Iraq during the war. He later became a student of radical Muslim preacher Farid Benyettou and in the following years faced arrest again in connection to various terrorist activity; in one case, he never ended up going to jail as he ended up serving enough time in pre-trial detention and in the other, the charges were dropped.
  • Said, the older brother, seems to have had weapons and possibly bomb-making training from al Queda. He has never, however, been convicted of a crime.

This incident has much larger implications than the unnecessary loss of life. The freedom of the press has been threatened as a result of this attack, since those who were targeted were the journalists utilizing satire to make political statements. Unfortunately, this is reflective of a larger issue regarding the targeting of journalists and the repression of information and free expression. 

The number of journalists who have been killed worldwide has risen from 44 in 1992 to 74 in 2012 and 70 in 2013. 

Watch this space for updates as new developments are made available!

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