Acton Institute Powerblog

Explainer: The Charlie Hebdo Terror Attack in Paris

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charlie-hebdoWhat just happened in Paris?

Today at 11:30 a.m. local time in Paris (5:30 a.m. ET), two gunmen wearing black hoods and carrying Kalashnikovs killed twelve people, including two police officers, and seriously wounded four others in an apparent terrorist attack on the offices of a French satirical news magazine that had published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The gunmen escaped and are currently on the loose and being hunted by French police. (The police say they are looking for three men.)

Why is it assumed to be a terrorist attacks by Muslims?

In an eyewitness video of the attack, the gunmen are heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) while the shootings took place.

According to a video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV, one of the men shouted in French, “Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo.”

The attack is believed to be in response to a recent tweet by the publication of a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, with the caption (in French): “Best wishes, by the way.”

France has raised its terror threat level following the shooting.

What is Charlie Hebdo?

Charlie Hebdo (French for Charlie Weekly) is a French satirical weekly newspaper that is left-wing and antireligious; the publication has a history of mocking Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The magazine published the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that sparked Middle East riots in 2005, renamed an edition “Shariah Hebdo” (listing Islam’s prophet as its supposed editor-in-chief), and repeatedly caricatures Muslims and their beliefs.

The magazine’s office was firebombed in 2011 after its “Shariah Hebdo” edition, and France was forced to close its embassies and schools in 20 countries in 2012 after the magazine published cartoons of Muhammad.

A cartoon released in this week’s issue and titled “Still No Attacks in France,” had a caricature of a jihadi fighter saying “Just wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.”

How did the terrorists escape?

After shooting a police officer, the gunmen escaped by hijacking a car to use as a getaway vehicle. They later abandoned that vehicle and hijacked another car at gunpoint.

What has been the response by the U.S. government?

Secretary of State John Kerry released a videotaped statement in which he said:

They may wield weapons, but we in France and the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful — not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear. Free expression and a free press are core values. They are universal values. Principles that can be attacked but never eradicated because brave and decent people around the world will never give in to the intimidation and terror that those seeking to destroy those values employ.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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