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Professor Seán Hand discusses Charlie Hebdo and the Paris shooting

One of the worst ever attacks perpetrated on French soil has taken place today, around midday, in Paris. Two men, wearing balaclavas and using automatic weapons, stormed the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which are located in the heart of Paris, in the 11th district of Paris, in rue Nicolas Appert, between the place de la République and Bastille. French authorities confirmed shortly afterwards that twelve people had been killed, with several others in a critical condition. The gunmen then escaped by car.

The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls immediately raised security levels in Paris to the most critical status, and sent protection to all Paris newspaper offices, public transport locations, and religious sites. The French President, François Hollande, accompanied by the Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, visited the scene 45 minutes later. He said that several terrorist attacks had been thwarted in recent weeks, and denounced this attack as a terrorist operation that threatened the French Republic’s support for free expression and its basic position as a ‘country of liberty’.

Charlie Hebdo, notwithstanding its small readership, is notorious as a provocatively satirical weekly magazine, with offices based in Paris. First founded in 1969, the magazine maintains a robustly anti-religious position, while generally lampooning French current affairs from a left-wing perspective.

This is not the first time the magazine has been targeted. In November 2011 Charlie Hebdo offices were fire-bombed, and its website hacked, following publication of an issue provocatively renamed Charia Hebdo, which featured a cartoon depiction of Mohammed as the supposed editor-in-chief on the cover. In keeping with the magazine’s principled opposition to religion in France, it also produced an edition called Shoah Hebdo, and has for years maintained heavily irreverent attacks on the Catholic Church. The most recent tweet on the Charlie Hebdo twitter account had been a typical cartoon of the Islamic State militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The current editor, Stephane Charbonnier, known as ‘Charb’, had bodyguards; unsubstantiated reports named him as one of the victims of this latest attack.

In September 2012, the magazine again published a series of satirical cartoons of Mohammed, some of which involved nude caricatures. On that occasion, the Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had criticized the magazine’s irresponsible sense of provocation, stating that it was not clever to pour oil on the fire. The magazine subsequently re-issued the supposedly provocative edition, on a Friday, which is the Muslim day of prayer. On that occasion, some twenty embassies and a number of schools were temporarily closed. The offices had also been petrol-bombed a few months ago.

This outrage occurs in a context of growing sectarian tension in France, which as a nation strongly maintains an official secularist policy, but today has the largest Muslim and Jewish national populations in Europe. The past year therefore saw a significant spike in emigration of Jews to Israel, and French government bans on inflammatory shows by the comedian Dieudonné. In 2012, four people, including three children, were killed at a Jewish day school by a petty criminal of Algerian descent. Most recently, the French government has been concerned at the number of French radicalized citizens fighting as jihadis in Syria.

7 January 2014, 12.36 p.m



Notes to Editors

Tom Frew, International Press Officer

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Further Information

Tom Frew, International Press Officer

+44 (0)2476 575 910