By: Dom Sanfilippo – Staff Writer
Last week, terrorists struck at the core of freedom of speech and thought in France in a series of shootings that, according to The New York Times, left a total of 20 people dead and more than 20 injured.
On Wednesday morning two terrorists armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the offices of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris’ 11th district.
The Guardian reported that after entering the magazine’s usual morning editorial meeting, the two men shouted that they were there to take revenge for the magazine’s portrayals of the prophet Muhammad in several of its cartoons over the years. In its history, the cartoons, editorials, and reports found in Charlie Hebdo have been known to poke at fun and critique not only Islam, but also much of the world’s major religions, cultural events, and political leaders and movements.
According to the BBC, they killed 10 people inside Charlie Hebdo, including several journalists and cartoonists that had been leading critical voices in French culture for decades, and a police officer, 40-year-old French Muslim Ahmed Merabet, who tried to impede their escape. He was executed at short range by one of the terrorists as he lay bleeding on the street outside Charlie Hebdo’s offices.
These attacks sparked a three-day manhunt for the suspects, in which thousands of French police and Special Forces counter-terrorist units swarmed Paris and its outlying regions. The suspects were soon identified as brothers and French citizens Saïd Kouachi, age 34, and Cherif Kouachi, age 32. The Kouachi brothers, the sons of Algerian immigrants, had been slowly radicalized over the past several years.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Saïd Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2009 and spent the better part of two years there studying Arabic with people associated with the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida, while his brother Cherif Kouachi spent time there in 2011.
The Kouachi brothers went on the run in the northeast of Paris, stealing cars and robbing a petrol station, and eventually barricaded themselves inside a small printing company located around thirty miles outside the city in Dammartin-en-Goele, taking a hostage.
According to the Daily Telegraph, during the search efforts a third individualidentified as Amedy Coulibaly, age 32, murdered a policewoman in the early hours Thursday morning and later took hostages at a Jewish supermarket near the Porte de Vincennes in the 12th district.
A link was established between the two unfolding hostage situations, and France 24 reported that the terrorists had been in communication during the three-day siege, with Coulibaly warning hostage negotiators that he would kill the people trapped in the supermarket if French special forces attempted to enter the building that the Kouachi brothers were hiding in.
On Friday French forces entered both hostage locations in Dammartin-en-Goele and Paris in a rescue effort: the Kouachi brothers were both killed, and their sole hostage was freed. At the Parisian supermarket, four hostages were killed along with Coulibaly, with others injured, bringing the total dead to 20 as of Sunday.
The Daily Telegraph reported a fourth associate of Coulibaly’s, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene is still at large.
France and the world responded to the attacks with a huge swell of dismay and sympathy. Thousands of people came together on the streets outside the Place de la Republique in a show of solidarity against terror, with people waving flags and signs with slogans such as “Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie).”
Similar rallies were held in countries all around the world, and on Sunday Le Monde reported that more than one million people marched in the center of Paris, led by a united show of world leaders ranging from the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur to British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, leaders of two communities with deep tensions between them, marched together on the front line, a few yards away from one another.
Various commentators have noted that the attacks are already having a wide range of effects on both French and global society.
USA Today reported on Friday that the attacks have already fueled increased rallies and participation in far right nationalist political groups like Marine Le Pen’s French National Front and the German PEGIDA, as well as other possible lone wolf religious extremists to perform copycat attacks. Professor Sebastian Gorka, an expert on terrorism and global conflict with the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., told Forbes of his worry that terrorist cells following an absolute “fatalist global jihad ideology” are likely to grow and be extremely difficult to negotiate with.
Muslim leaders from around the world have denounced the attacks, and many leaders have stood in solidarity with them; on Friday after the sieges had ended, the BBC reported that French President Francois Hollande dismissed the terrorists in a televised statement as “fanatics that have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.”
“Unfortunately, as Americans, I think we’re used to this sort of fear,” Frances Carroll, junior political science major, who just returned home from a semester abroad in Paris said. “Until I spoke with some of my Parisian friends, I didn’t realize how shaken they were.”
“Despite the immediate terror, they are a very proud and resilient people, and their reaction is not fear, but to support each other and to continue living normally.”
According to CNN, the remaining members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff met over this past weekend to plan the next issue of their magazine.