Twelve people, including two police officers, were killed Jan. 7 in an early afternoon attack on the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, and three other cartoonists were among the dead. At least five people are in critical condition.
“This is the darkest day of the history of the French press,” said Christophe DeLoire, director-general of Reporters Without Borders.
The Newseum issued a statement condemning the killings.
“Journalists around the world fight every day for the right to report the news without fear of reprisal. They express ideas others disagree with and pose questions some don’t want asked. Too often they pay the ultimate price. We join with journalists and all others who support freedom of expression to declare that such cowardly attempts to thwart free speech and a free press will not succeed, and that this most recent attack only strengthens our commitment to the ideal that all people in every nation should be able to express themselves freely and without fear.”
Witnesses reported seeing multiple black-hooded gunmen enter the building and flee after the rampage, shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!” Muhammad is the central figure of the Islamic religion. President François Hollande called the shooting “a terrorist attack” and raised the country’s terror alert to the highest level.
The last tweet from the small-circulation weekly before the attack was a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State. The Islamic State is the terrorist group responsible for the recent beheadings of international journalists in Syria.
“Best wishes, by the way,” the tweet stated over a cartoon of al-Baghdadi. “We also wish Al-Baghdadi the best of health.”
Charlie Hebdo (French for Charlie Weekly) was founded in 1969 in the tradition of 18th-century French satire publications that ridiculed royalty, public figures, politicians and religion. It folded in 1981 but was restarted in 1992. In 2006, the newspaper — known for its bold, sensational headlines and inflammatory cartoons — was firebombed after it reprinted controversial cartoons of Muhammad. The cartoons had originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In 2011, Charlie Hebdo was firebombed again after it published a caricature of Muhammad on the cover.
Jyllands-Posten has reportedly increased security at its offices in Copenhagen. In a Newseum Institute program held Nov. 13, 2014, Flemming Rose, the daily newspaper’s cultural editor, explained the paper’s still-disputed decision in 2005 to publish the series of cartoons. Rose said the decision was based on a serious attempt to handle the topic of self-censorship as it relates to stories about Islam.
“These cartoons did not come out of the blue. It was not a conscious attempt to offend a lot of people just for the sake of showing that we have free speech in Denmark. It was a classical journalistic project,” he said.
In an act of solidarity with the victims of the killings, people around the world have used social media to express their outrage. Hours after the killings, “Je Suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie), and #JeSuisCharlie have been trending heavily on Facebook and Twitter.
Listen to the Newseum Institute’s interview with Jyllands-Posten cultural editor Flemming Rose: