Satire Magazine Targeted Paris Terror Darkens City of Lights

In a brazen daylight massacre, masked gunmen yelling in Arabic gunned down 10 journalists at a French satirical magazine and two police officers. The incident raised terror alerts across Europe.
Police in Paris outside the building where the shootings took place.

In a bloody massacre in broad daylight, masked gunmen shouting in Arabic on Wednesday killed at least 12 people at the offices of a French satirical magazine in Paris.

Ten of those killed worked in the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical weekly, according to the Paris mayor’s office.

The magazine was bombed in 2011 after publishing a cartoon of the Islamic prophet, Mohammed and senior editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, had been living under police protection. Both he and his bodyguard were killed in Wednesday's attack. One other police officer also died.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces were hunting for three gunmen over the assault.

France raised its terror alert to the highest level and increased security at religious buildings, media offices and transport hubs.

The attack, some of which was filmed by shocked spectators with mobile phones in the posh southern Parisian neighborhood, has sent shockwaves across Europe.


Video: Film of the gunmen shouting in Arabic while shooting at police.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a telegram to French President Francois Hollande, expressed shock, saying it was not just an attack on the French and France’s domestic security.

“It represents an attack on the freedom of speech and press freedom, a core element of our free democratic culture, one that cannot be justified in any way,” Ms. Merkel said.

Germany's domestic intelligence agency said it was evaluating the French killings. Police were called in to advise the staff of a German satirical magazine, Titanic, in Frankfurt, on security.

“It is too early to say, we don’t have any indications yet for what this would mean for Germany,” said Angela Pley, a spokeswoman at the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s domestic intelligence service.

This act of terrorism is an attack on our democratic values and our understanding of ourselves as Europeans. Frank Henkel, Berlin State Interior Minister

Berlin's state interior minister, Frank Henkel, condemned the attack.

“Today is a black day,'' Mr. Henkel said. "This act of terrorism is an attack on our democratic values and our understanding of ourselves as Europeans. The German capital’s solidarity is with our friends in Paris. We all deeply feel grief for the families of the victims.''

The interior ministry said security forces were working closely with their French counterparts, but there was no evidence that Germany was under threat from a similar attack.

A spectator's film of the killing of one of the police officers, which was made by someone from a window across the street, was posted on the Web.

In the film, two masked men dressed in black were seen gunning down the policeman, who lay prone on the sidewalk with an arm extended, seemingly begging for mercy. His killers crossed the street to the officer and without hesitating shot him, before escaping in a small black car.

A few minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satire of the leader of the extremist group Islamic State. Its cover this week is on the book “Submission” by celebrated French writer Michel Houellebecq, which depicts France as led by an Islamic party.

French president Francoise Hollande arrives at the scene.


German satirical magazines have largely refrained printing religious images of Mohammed, but have pulled no punches in criticizing politics and politicians in the Islamic world.

A worker at the German satirical magazine Titanic said police came in to consult the staff after the Paris killings.

"From a German perspective, there aren’t any prominent representatives of Islam who behave weirdly, but we have dealt with Islamic State,'' said Tim Wolff, the Titanic's editor in chief, based in Frankfurt. "That’s not the only topic, though we also ran the Mohammed cartoons, asking whether they were funny. We don’t exclude topics that we believe are relevant.''

Mr.Wolff said the killings showed that satire had to be defended even more. He said the magazine had not increased security.

"We don’t face a concrete threat though the police are on patrol outside,'' Mr. Wolff said.

At Eulenspiegel, a satirical monthly magazine based in Berlin, editor in chief Mathias Wedel said the attacks would not change his publication's outlook.

“Like all other people, I’m shocked and sad and angry that something like this could happen,'' Mr. Wedel said.

"It doesn’t change the fact that we do and will continue to deal with the political side of Islam with humor and satire,'' he told Handelsblatt Global Edition. "We don’t approach the religious aspect of Islam or critique that, that’s a personal question. But we do deal satirically with political questions about refugees and the construction of mosques.''

Mr. Wedel said the magazine, which was the leading satirical outlet in the former East Germany, would continue to defend the freedom to write and draw on all issues.

"But we do not feel compelled to push this freedom to an extreme and provoke our readers,'' Mr. Wedel said. "Radical Islam has to be combatted with tools other than Muhammad cartoons.”

In Paris, French President Holland hurried to the scene of the shootings and said his country was “in a state of shock after this terrorist attack.”

“An act of exceptional barbarity has been perpetrated against a newspaper, against liberty of expression, against journalists,” Mr. Hollande said.

French security forces had detected and stopped several attack attempts in recent weeks, the French president added.

Germany, its neighbor, did not issue a nationwide terror alert in the wake of the attack. But a police spokesman in Berlin said the capital was on high alert.

The government in a statement said security threats vary by region in Germany, and alerting the public could make people needlessly insecure. Michael Mass, a police spokesperson in Berlin told Handelsblatt Global Edition that the German capital was already on alert.

”We have a high level of security in Berlin and don’t plan to make any changes. We can’t make any comments on security,” he said.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

The attack comes at a time of heightened tensions in Europe over Islamic fundamentalism.

In Dresden, in former East Germany, thousands of people have gathered each week to participate in marches organized by an anti-Islam group called Pegida. The movement has been widely condemned by senior politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel on down.

Britta Graupner of the Intercultural Council Germany told Handelsblatt Global Edition that the attacks in Paris would fuel the movement.

“My first reaction is the fear that these events in France will feed the Pegida movement, and people will see the event as evidence for their fear of Islam and the supposed dangers. I don’t think we can hope any longer that Pegida will dispel, the movement is more likely to expand," she said.

Germany, the home of several 9/11 terrorists, has been closely monitoring jihadist activity.

The first prosecution of a German member of ISIS took place late last year.

In December, a court in Frankfurt jailed Kreshnik Berisha, a Kosovo-born German citizen, for four years after he admitted to joining IS in Syria. He was accused of fighting with Islamist fighters in Aleppo in the north of the country.

Thousands of Europeans have flocked to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, where IS has been involved in fighting as well as in terror such as beheadings of captives and suicide bombings.

German intelligence agencies estimate that around 550 people have left from Germany to fight in Syria and Iraq, of whom 60 have been killed, at least nine of them in suicide attacks. About 180 are believed to have since returned home.

The issue of international terrorism is sensitive for Germany. There was criticism at intelligence failings after it emerged that most of the 9/11 attackers in 2001 had been based in the German city of Hamburg.

The German deputy chancellor and leader of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, spoke of an “unbelievably brutal crime.”

Mr. Gabriel said the terror attack was aimed at chilling freedom of expression in an open society.

“The families of the victims, but also all journalists, writers and artists, who stand up for the free word, need our full solidarity,” Mr. Gabriel said.

He assured President Hollande of Germany’s support in the fight against “this fanatical religious terrorism. In Germany too, we will defend freedom with all our political strength and all the means at the disposal of the law.”

“Everyone has the right to criticize, including and especially through the means of satire,” he said. “We will not allow intimidation and fear.”

The Spanish government has condemned the “vile and cowardly terrorist act.”

In a statement issued by the Spanish Ministry of the Exterior, the government said it was horrified after hearing the news and expressed its utmost condolences.


Meera Selva has reported on international affairs from all over the world . Siobhán Dowling has been writing about politics in Germany for more than a decade. Both are editors at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. Allison Williams is a deputy editor in chief at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]