The satirical weekly French newspaper Charlie Hebdo was the latest victim of Al-Qaeda’s Islamist terrorism, as two masked gunmen stormed the paper’s offices in Paris on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at around 11:30AM local time. Two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, who belonged to the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, forced their way into the newspaper’s offices, armed with assault rifles and other weapons, killing 12 people, including the paper’s top editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, several cartoonists, and two police officers, leaving 11 others injured.
The gunmen approached cartoonist Corinne “Coco” Rey outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo at approximately 11:30AM and used threats of violence to force her into entering the passcode opening the office door. Gunfire was sprayed in the lobby after they entered, killing maintenance worker Frédéric Boisseau.
Upstairs the Charlie Hebdo staff were gathered for a weekly editorial meeting when the two gunmen entered calling out Charbonnier’s name to target him before opening fire. The shooting lasted five to ten minutes, with gunmen aiming for the journalists’ heads. Some survived by hiding under desks. Other witnesses recalled the terrorists identifying themselves as belonging to Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The gunmen were said to leave the offices shouting, “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” (God is great).
The provocative magazine is known for publishing charged cartoons that satirized the Prophet Muhammad, most religions, the pope, and a variety of world leaders. Cartoonist Charbonnier had been the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo since 2009. His mission with the magazine was clear in a statement made two years prior to the attack, “We have to carry on until Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism.”
After killing a policeman at close range the gunmen left the scene, and according to witnesses, were shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo.” It appeared from video that the two gunmen were military professionals who likely had combat experience. The gunmen were exercising infantry tactics such as moving in “mutual support” and were firing aimed, single-round shots at police officers. They also were seen using military gestures.
A major manhunt was on for Saïd Kouachi, 34, and his younger brother Chérif, 32. On Thursday, Jan. 8 at 8:45AM a lone assailant armed with a machine-gun and a pistol, dressed similarly to those in the Charlie Hebdo attack — all in black and wearing bulletproof vests — shot two people including a female police officer in the southern Paris suburb of Montrouge. The female police officer did not survive. It was later confirmed this was a connected attack with the Charlie Hebdo assault the day before.
Meanwhile in northern France, a gas station attendant near Villers-Cotterets reported the Kouachi brothers stole food and gas from the business, shifting the massive manhunt to this location. In a bulletin informing the public that arrest warrants had been issued for Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, police said they should be considered armed and dangerous. French media said Chérif was a convicted Islamist who was jailed in 2008 and had long been known to police for militant activities.
On Friday morning, Jan. 9, after commandeering another vehicle in the town of Montagny Sainte Felicity, Saïd Kouachi was hit in the neck in a shootout with police. A high speed chase ensued as police pursued the pair, until around 9:30AM, when the suspects sought refuge in a printing facility called Creation Tendency Decouverte on the outskirts of the Paris suburb Dammartin-en-Goele. One hostage was taken at this printing facility located 22 miles from Paris. The hostage was released but the siege lasted for hours.
Just before 5:00PM, elite French security forces launched an assault on the printworks in Dammartin-en-Goele, with explosions and smoke going off near the building as a team landed on the roof of the building. The brothers had stated a desire to die as martyrs and the siege came to an abrupt end when the Kouachi brothers emerged from the printworks firing at police. Both brothers were shot and killed by French security forces.
A separate front in this crisis was opened simultaneously Friday afternoon when a gunman entered a kosher supermarket in the Paris suburb of Porte de Vincennes, taking customers hostage. The gunman was believed to be the same man accused of shooting the police officer Thursday in Montrouge.
Amedy Coulibaly, 32, was identified as the hostage-taker who was threatening to kill people unless the Kouachi brothers were allowed to go free. At about 5:15PM, minutes after the printworks siege came to an end in Dammartin-en-Goele, explosions were heard at the supermarket in Porte de Vincennes as special forces moved against Coulibaly.
Reports say Coulibaly had just knelt for evening prayers when elite commandos stormed the supermarket, shooting Coulibaly dead and freeing 15 hostages. The bodies of four hostages were also recovered. Coulibaly has since been linked to the shooting and wounding of a 32-year old jogger in a park in Fontenay-les-Roses, in south-west Paris, on Wednesday, the day of the Charlie Hebdo attack. It is believed his accomplice, 26-year old Hayat Boumeddiene escaped as the hostages ran from the store. She is still wanted by police, but it is believed she fled France, travelling to Syria through Turkey.
In all 17 people died over these three days. This was the worst terrorist attack in France since World War II. On Jan. 11, a rally of national unity was held in Paris, as some two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, joined together with the 3.7 million people who demonstrated across France. The phrase “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) was the rallying cry for all who mourned the violence that befell Charlie Hebdo. The spirit of this simple empathetic statement spread like wildfire across the internet and social media, making an even larger statement digitally as it circled the globe.