Friday September 25th, a man has stabbed two people in the city centre of Paris. The assailant was deliberately targeting the weekly French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, famous to have endured a terror attack five years ago when 12 members of the editorial office were killed and several others injured.The aggressor seemingly ignored that Charlie Hebdo’s office moved few months ago to a secured secret place. Its former building is now occupied by Premières Lignes, a TV production company, whose staff has been assaulted. The two employees, a man and a woman, whose names have been kept anonymous, were smoking a cigarette on the pavement when they were attacked and wounded with a meat cleaver. They are not in a critical state despite serious injuries and mental trauma. Following the attack, local schools were placed under surveillance and the whole quarter locked down. Investigations have been initiated. The following paragraphs summarize what we know so far.
What we know on the attack so far
The main suspect was arrested a few hours later at the east of Paris and investigations for terrorist and criminal acts have been launched. During this time, information remains scarce and needs to be treated with caution. Apparently, the attacker is a man of Pakistani origins. He arrived in France through Turkey three years ago as an isolated minor. During the first interrogations with the Police he confessed carrying out the assault and admitted his wish to “punish” Charlie Hebdo after the republishing of Prophet Mohamed cartoons.
The trial for the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in 2015, which resulted in the killing of 12 people, opened earlier this month. On this occasion, the satirical newspaper republished the caricatures of Prophet Mohamed, which made them a target of terror attack, to reaffirm their wish “to never get knocked out down, to never renounce.”
Few days after the attack, the Police found a video on the perpetrator’s mobile phone, recorded in Urdu, where he described and explained his gesture. However, doubts remain on his identity at the moment, as police also discovered identity documents of an other man on the assailant: he would be older than the 18-year old man he is supposed to be.
A series of arrests are being carried out to determine if the suspected perpetrator – unknown so far by specialized police services – operated alone or benefited from support, and if he is affiliated to any terrorist organisation. Ten days before the attack, at the beginning of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo terror attack trial, Al Qaeda officially threatened the newspaper members. Some members of the journal now declare that such practices became “repetitive” while others had to change their place of residence after receiving threats.
A second arrest: from suspect to hero?
Following the attack, a second man, Youssef, a 33-year old from Algerian origins, had been placed in detention before being released. Security video seized by the investigators showed him talking with the suspect. Apparently, he forced the attacker to leave, but the Police forces made a mistake and considered him as an accomplice. Many political voices – from left to extreme right – asked for his naturalization in recognition of his bravery after his heroic act.
Political reactions: upcoming announcements from President Macron
The Minister of Interior, Gerald Darmanin, declared that it was “obviously an Islamist terror attack” and that French people probably undermined the general threat of terrorist attacks in France. The minister also expressed his concerns to reinforce caution on the eve of the Jewish New Year. At the moment, the French President Emmanuel Macron did not officially react. His silence has been qualified as “weird” by the French newspaper Le Point, but he apparently called personally the victims’ families and should make a stand on the topic Friday 2nd of October in an awaited speech on “separatism.”
The recurrent debate on Islam and radicalization
Despite the lack of concrete information on the religious motivations of the suspected attacker, political reactions tend to systematically make a connection or even confusion between Islam and terrorism, maintaining the never-ending French debate on “radicalization.” To put it differently, it is required – more or less directly – of French Muslims to claim their opposition to the aggressor and to reaffirm their citizenship. A similar process occurred after the 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo where the whole country tweeted #Jesuischarlie (I am Charlie). At that time, many French Muslims expressed their reluctance to join the movement. Of course they vividly condemned the atrocity of the attack and they felt no proximity with the killer, however, they remained opposed to the cartoons. Such a binary injunction (if you are not against, then you are supposed to necessarily be in favour of…) might explain the lack of reaction from French Muslims, who preferred to keep silence, rather than being forced to distance themselves from terror they are not responsible for.