UPDATE, 11:30 AM: French President François Hollande just addressed the nation live on television, declaring tomorrow a national day of mourning in the wake of today’s mass killing at the headquarters of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Flags on public buildings will fly at half-mast for three days, Hollande said, as he condemned the “cowardly” attack which left 12 dead and 11 seriously injured. Of the victims, he said, “Today, they are our heroes.” The shootings took place this morning during Charlie Hebdo’s editorial meeting. France was attacked “at its heart,” Hollande said.
The gunmen responsible are now being pursued in the east of France. Around all of the country, demonstrations of support have blossomed in major city squares with thousands of citizens holding signs that read “Je Suis Charlie” or “I Am Charlie” in a show of solidarity worthy of Spartacus. Even Google France has posted a black ribbon on its home page in memory of the victims.
Hollande said, “Today, it was the entire Republic that was attacked… We must recognize that our best weapon is our unity. Nothing can divide us, nothing must oppose us or separate us. Freedom will always be bigger than barbarism. Let us join together and we will win.” He signed off with “Vive la République, vive la France.”
Hollande noted he had received messages of support from around the globe. President Obama and John Kerry weighed in earlier. Also weighing in have been the MPAA and the WGA. “Today, as a Guild, we reaffirm our belief in the free and open expression of ideas and in the pact all of us must make with each other, not to agree, but to be tolerant of that with which we disagree. We stand with those, wherever they are, who write and speak their minds, which is a brave and necessary thing to do. And we hope for ourselves and wish for others the resolve never to be silenced by fear,” said WGAW President Chris Keyser.
PREVIOUS, 7:45 AM PT: In the wake of the deadly attack this morning at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, public demonstrations of support are beginning to be organized all around France (#JeSuisCharlie). Film industry body ARP says it is mobilizing a delegation to participate at the one which will be held at 6 PM local time in the capital city’s Place de la République. ARP’s membership is made up of writers, directors and producers including Michel Hazanavicius, Costa Gavras, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Roman Polanski and Stephen Frears. In a statement, the group praised Charlie Hebdo‘s “historic courage” and declared, “Nothing: no threat, no violence, whatever the motive — political, religious or other — will interfere with freedom of expression and freedom of creation.”
President Obama has also weighed in with a statement condemning the shooting and calling France “America’s oldest ally” which has “stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world.” He directed his Administration “to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice.” See the full statement below the original post.
PREVIOUS, 4:03 AM PT: Twelve people have been killed at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris according to local reports. Masked gunmen, reportedly armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket propelled grenades, burst into the office of the publication this morning. Charlie Hebdo has previously been targeted by extremists after it published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in November 2011 and its offices were firebombed.
A manhunt is underway for the gunmen, after they escaped during a shoot out on the streets with police. Two police officers are believed to be among the dead. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack at the time of writing. The magazine’s latest tweet was a cartoon of the Islamic State militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
French President Francois Hollande has condemned the attack, describing it as “an exceptional act of barbarism committed against a newspaper” and has raised the security level in Paris. He also told reporters at the scene that security forces had foiled a number of terrorist plots in recent weeks.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his condemnation as well.
“The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”
Eyewitnesses at the scene have described it as “carnage”.
Racial tensions have been rising in France for some time with a series of lone gunman attacks. This is the most organized, and most brutal, strike yet. Its sheer brazenness, occurring in broad daylight, is almost as shocking as the appalling loss of life it has inflicted.
It just goes to underscore what a dangerous world we live in now, including for members of the media, coming only weeks after Sony found itself the victim of a catastrophic hack with President Obama publicly accusing North Korea of its involvement. It also comes days after three Al-Jazeera English journalists were not freed by an Egyptian court despite major discrepancies being found with their original trial and guilty verdict of spreading false news and being affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead a re-trial was ordered with the trio remaining behind bars.
Reports out of Paris are indicating that the gunmen were heard shouting out “we have avenged the Prophet” and “God Is Greatest.” If, indeed, the culprits are found to be Islamic extremists, it would mark a worrying escalation in their terrorist tactics against Western media targets.
There have been prior attacks against the media. Controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim angry at his short film Submission, which criticized Islam’s treatment of women.
In 2006, a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed published initially by Danish outlet Jyllands-Posten led to protests and deaths reported. Charlie Hebdo was one publication to reprint the cartoons despite the threats against it, citing free speech.
Charlie Hebdo has been no stranger to controversy. In 2012, it published more cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including showing him naked, and a cover showing him being pushed along in a wheelchair by an Orthodox Jew. French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, publicly criticized the magazine’s actions at the time, questioning the wisdom of the provocation.
Hebdo editor-in-chief Gérard Biard rejected the criticism by insisting his publication respected French law. “Now, if there’s a law that is different in Kabul or Riyadh, we’re not going to bother ourselves with respecting it,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
France is home to one of Europe’s biggest Muslim populations, with more than 5 million. Over the years, questions of integration and assimilation have remained sensitive subjects. The despicable attack today in Paris, however, may mark a watershed moment for race relations in France.
Statement by President Obama:
“I strongly condemn the horrific shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that has reportedly killed 12 people. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and the people of France at this difficult time. France is America’s oldest ally, and has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the fight against terrorists who threaten our shared security and the world. Time and again, the French people have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended. France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers. We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my Administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice.”