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Top 10 Charlie Hebdo Attack Facts - WMNews Ep. 10

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Angela Fafard This one event brought terrorism and freedom of speech to the forefront of global headlines.Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from that breaks down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Charlie Hebdo Attack.

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Script written by Angela Fafard

Top 10 Charlie Hebdo Attack Facts

#10: What Happened?
The Attack

January 7th, 2015 marked the beginning of a three-day terrorist attack, which started with a deadly shooting at the Parisian headquarters of a French satirical magazine and left 20 victims wounded or dead – including three suspects. Most of the losses were employees of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly magazine known for its rebellious tone and controversial content in the form of writings and cartoons. The alleged attackers were Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, who carried out a military-style attack, brandishing assault weapons which they used to kill 12 individuals, including the magazine’s lead cartoonist, before fleeing. A widespread manhunt ensued, and the two brothers were later located and killed in a tense standoff with French police.

#9: Who Was Involved?
The Alleged Perpetrators

The four main suspects in these attacks are the Kouachi brothers, Saïd and Chérif, who are the supposed gunmen who attacked the Charlie Hebdo building; Amedy Coulibaly, an acquaintance of the Kouachi brothers who allegedly shot a jogger, murdered a police officer, and killed several in a hostage taking situation at a supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in east Paris, before being gunned down by police; and Coulibaly’s female partner, thought to be his wife Hayat Boumeddiene. French police had been familiar with the brothers for years: having been radicalized, Chérif was jailed in 2005 as he attempted to travel from France to Iraq to fight for al-Qaeda against the Americans. In prison, he met Coulibaly and the two became acquaintances.

#8: Why Did This Attack Happen?
The Supposed Motive

Charlie Hebdo regularly lampoons religion as one of its main targets, and in the past the magazine has published various satirical cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad, some of which depicted him in the nude. Though the exact motive likely died with the gunmen, witnesses say the two shooters were shouting, “God is great” and “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” during and after the attack. Many sources use this as evidence that the motive may have been to retaliate against Charlie Hebdo’s perceived offenses against Islam.

#7: What Is the Current Situation?
The Rising Tensions

Economic turmoil and youth unemployment rates that hover around 24% aren’t only dragging French President François Hollande’s approval rating to an all-time low; they’re also exacerbating political unrest that already exists within the country. For years, France has experienced significant levels of immigration – especially from Islamic countries, many of which were previous colonies of France; in fact, the Muslim population of the country is roughly 7.5%; the largest in the European Union. However, anti-immigrant sentiment among the population has led to rising tensions between Islamic and bordering communities – especially in light of France’s past colonial history – and has caused the non-native population to feel alienated. Compounding that sentiment is France’s far-right, nationalist political party Front National, which opposes the European Union as well as immigration – particularly from Muslim countries – and which won the 2014 European Parliament election in France with almost 25% of the vote.

#6: What Are the Underlying Issues?
The History of Islam

Islam as a religion was founded on the teachings of God as told to the Prophet Muhammad and revealed in the Quran, making Muhammad a significant figure to the faith. However, it is important to note that Muslims see the Prophet for what he is: a man and not a god. Adherents believe that if depictions of Muhammad were allowed, it could result in believers venerating a human over their true God, Allah – and, as the word Muslim translates to “one who submits to God,” that would be an unacceptable reality. However, the Quran does not overtly prohibit such depictions, making this another contentious issue. But the fact remains: some radicalized and extremist offshoots of Islam are willing to protect their Prophet by any means necessary, meaning they view blasphemy as a crime punishable by death. And, the fact that Charlie Hebdo not only depicted Muhammad, but depicted him in racy caricatures, makes the magazine even more of a target.

#5: How Did France React?
The Rally

Following the attacks, support poured in across social media and gatherings across France – and the world – occurred, with pens and pencils becoming icons of press freedom. In a symbolic move, the lights on the Eiffel Tower went black in a show of both unity and anger. January 11th, 2015 saw upwards of 3.7 million march throughout France, in what was thought to be the largest demonstration in French history. In a show of solidarity, 40 world leaders and representatives from countries across the globe attended the unity rally, linking arms in a show of solidarity, even though many of these leaders don’t fully support free speech in their home countries.

#4: What Rights Do the Media Have?
The Freedom of the Press

In France, the concept of Freedom of the Press was defined and established with the Law on the Freedom of the Press of 29 July 1881. At this point, crimes of opinion – where people were prosecuted for critiquing the government, for example – were eliminated, the scope of libelous activities was severely reduced, and in general freedom of the press was assured. However, interestingly, an amendment to the law made in 1972 made racially slanderous comments, hate speech and provocation of racial hatred criminalized offenses. Some critics have pointed out that it’s ironic and perhaps a double standard that a magazine like Charlie Hebdo can be protected and in some cases revered, while a public figure like controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala can be charged with ‘inciting terrorism’ with his supposed hate speech.

#3: How Did the World React?
The Power of Social Media

Hours after the first attack took place, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie exploded on Twitter in a worldwide expression of unity. Within a few days, there were more than 3.4 million mentions of the hashtag as it quickly went viral and became one of the most popular hashtags in the site’s history. Twitter became a go-to source for information as it updates provided quick timely facts on the evolving story. And, tributes poured in from cartoonists from around the world, who put their own visual spins of free speech and the #JeSuisCharlie sentiment. In addition, another hashtag popped up – #JeSuisAhmed – which paid tribute to Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who was killed during the attack. Tweets bearing this hashtag pointed out the fact that Merabet died defending the rights of a group of people who mocked his religion, and the tributes poured in.

#2: How Did It End?
The Chase

After the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, a massive manhunt ensued with hundreds of French police officers searching for the two gunmen, and since one of the suspects had left his ID in their abandoned getaway car, police knew who they were looking for. A major breakthrough in the investigation came a day after the attacks, when the Kouachi brothers were reportedly seen at a gas station in the commune of Villers-Cotterêts in northern France, after which time they took refuge in a nearby forest. After a close call and shootout from which the brothers escaped, they hid in an industrial building and took one employee hostage. Eventually, after an 8-9 hour standoff, the brothers – who had told authorities they wished to die as martyrs – emerged from their hiding place, opened fire on police and were shot and killed.

#1: Will This Attack Initiate Change?
The Future

French authorities were still on high alert as suspects remained at large. However, Hamyd Mourad, the Kouachi brothers’ brother-in-law, was released shortly after being arrested on the suspicion that he was the getaway car driver as he had an alibi, leaving police to search for the third accomplice. In addition, Hayat Boumeddiene – the common-law wife and possible coconspirator of Amedy Coulibaly, an important witness and a potentially dangerous criminal – was believed to have fled to Syria. But, while the alleged perpetrators of the attack on Charlie Hebdo are dead, the threat to France is very much alive. In an unprecedented move, the country mobilized over 10,000 soldiers and almost 5,000 additional police officers in response not only to that continued danger but also to protect sites like mosques from the rash of anti-Muslim attacks across the country. While the attack on Charlie Hebdo and free speech undeniably brought people together, some fear it might also prove to be a boiling point that pushes Islamophobia into the mainstream and that the French and other European governments could use these attacks to crack down on civil liberties.

Did these facts surprise you? To vote for which news story is covered next, head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest, and be sure to hit that subscribe button for more newsworthy top 10s every week.


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