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  • Karis Clark

Charlie Hebdo Trial Commences: Five Years After the Attacks that Shook Paris

In Paris, France, on January 7th, 2015, two heavily armored gunmen approached Corinne Rey, a

cartoonist for the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine. With the threat of death, forced Rey to guide

them into the Hebdo office.

Once inside, the gunmen, later identified as French brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, fired upon

the magazine’s editorial board meeting. The attack, despite lasting several minutes, resulted in

the death of Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, the magazine’s senior editor, and several other

cartoonists and editorial staff. In total, the gunmen killed twelve people and injured eleven.

The gunmen identified themselves as members of al-Qaeda, an Islamic extremist organization,

and according to witnesses, repeated the words “Allahu akbar” meaning “God is most great”

during and after the attack. As a result, the attack was classified as an act of Islamic terrorism.

Known for their caricatures of political and religious figures, including the Islamic Prophet

Muhammed, Charlie Hebdo was targeted for several years’ worth of satirizations of Islamic

religious figures.

In the aftermath of the shooting, several more terror attacks occurred across France, including a

jihadist shooting at a Jewish supermarket that left four dead. In total, seventeen people lost their

lives as a result of the terror attacks, and many more were injured. The Kouachi brothers were

killed by police during a manhunt that lasted three days and came to a close on January 10th,

2015. The high profile nature of these attacks were the first of many more Islamic extremist

terror attacks in the fall of 2015-- eventually, over 150 people lost their lives as a result of the

terror in France.

Half a decade later, beginning September 2nd, 2020, the Charlie Hebdo trial is taking place in

Paris, France. There are fourteen suspects currently standing trial for their suspected involvement

in the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Of the fourteen, eleven are currently in Paris and three are being

tried in absentia.

The Paris-based weekly has long been criticized for their satirical attacks on religious

institutions, including Islam. The magazine and its patrons had experienced prior acts of violence

in response to their depictions of religious figures, particularly the Prophet Mohammed. Despite

their headquarters being firebombed in 2011 and Mr. Charbonnier, the senior editor, being

declared as wanted “dead or alive” by jihadists in 2013, the left-wing magazine remained

unfazed and produced publications all the same. After the firebombing of their magazine, a

cartoon of a Muslim man kissing a Charlie Hebdo fan was published, captioned “Love is

stronger than hate.”

The November 2011 Charlie Hebdo magazine cover

Despite attacks, criticism, and death threats, the magazine and its patrons remained fearless in

their publications. They refused to allow violence or the threat of violence, to deter their freedom

of speech. In the aftermath of the attacks, thousands rallied in Paris against Islamic extremism

and for their freedom of expression. Worldwide, the phrase “Je Suis Charlie” was adopted by the

post-attack movements. Meaning “I Am Charlie”, the phrase encapsulated the feelings of both

the Paris community and the rest of the world that deeply felt the loss of a defiant democratic


Parisians march at Place de la Republique in Paris, France on January 7th, 2015.

Now, five years later, those associated with the attacks are standing trial. Those standing trial are

suspected of being accomplices to the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly, the shooter at the

Kosher grocery store. None of the suspects are accused of being at the scene of the attack.

Rather, they are on trial for their knowledge of the attacks, failure to report the attacks, and

aiding the attackers. In addition to the fourteen suspects, 114 witnesses will take the stand.

Delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial is anticipated to last until November. If found

guilty, the suspects will face up to twenty years in prison.

For the witnesses and the entire Parisian community, this trial is a landmark moment. After five

long years, those who lost family and friends, who were injured, and those who witnessed the so-

named “attack on democracy” are seeing justice for what they endured.

Despite the resurfacing of old wounds, Charlie Hebdo remains impervious to everything against

them. On the first day of the trial, Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons that instigated the

attack in wake of the trial, citing them as a part of history that cannot be rewritten nor erased.

The last depiction of the Prophet Mohammed that was published by the magazine was in the

issue that followed the attacks: it depicted Mohammed holding a sign with the slogan “Je Suis

Charlie” and a headline saying “All Is Forgiven.”

The January 14th, 2015 publication of Charlie Hebdo

The attacks, publications, and trial have sparked debates both across France and the world

regarding terrorism and where the line should be drawn for free speech. Many stand with Charlie

Hebdo, including President Emmaneuel Macron of France, who stated that the people of France

have “the freedom to blaspheme.” In addition, those from the magazine emphasize their innocence, a claim that is well-favored amongst the French, as evidenced by the post-shooting

rallies and the thousands of publications that the magazine continues to sell. Charlie Hebdo is

cited as a magazine that initiates difficult but well-needed discussions, if offensively.

The magazine remains under fire, however, by those who feel the attack was at the fault of the

magazine for their “racist” depictions of political and religious leaders. This snowballed into a

movement tagged as “Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie” meaning “I Am Not Charlie”, for those who did

not sympathize with Charlie Hebdo. The controversy remains high to this day. Despite the murky

border between freedom of speech and racism that many of Charlie Hebdo’s satirizations lie on,

many agree that there is no excuse for violence and stand in support of the accused being brought

to justice.

Whether standing with or against the Charlie Hebdo survivors, the world is watching this trial.

For all that France experienced during 2015, this trial marks the beginning of what will be a

cathartic phase of healing, and as many hope, a phase of healing between the Islamic community

with the rest of France. Best said by French writer Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you say,

but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it."


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