First-Hand Account From The Terrorist Attack on Charlie Hebdo


If I sound incoherent, it’s because I am shaken. The reasons will be obvious.

I had no intention of reporting on this from the scene of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I was walking up Boulevard Richard Lenoir to meet a friend who lives in the neighborhood. But the moment I saw what I did, I knew for sure what had happened. A decade in Turkey teaches you that. That many ambulances, that many cops, that many journalists, and those kinds of faces can mean only one thing: a massive terrorist attack.

I also knew from the location just who’d been attacked: Charlie Hebdo, the magazine known for many things, but, above all, for its fearlessness in publishing caricatures of Mohamed. They’d been firebombed for this in 2011, but their response — in effect — was the only one free men would ever consider: “As long as we’re alive, you’ll never shut us up.”

They are no longer alive. They managed to shut them up.

The only thing I didn’t immediately know was how many of them had died.

All of them, it seems, or close enough. So did two police officers who had been assigned to protect their offices. Twelve are dead for sure; I assume that number will rise; seven are seriously injured. It was at the time I was there unclear how many were wounded.

And the attackers are still at large.

Given that two police officers are dead, now doesn’t seem the time to say what comes to mind about the fact that the assailants escaped. It will say this much though: if they’re not dead before nightfall, I’ll say exactly what comes to mind, respect for the dead be damned.

I did what I could as a journalist but — since it wasn’t my plan to be one — I was there with neither a camera nor even a notebook. And it didn’t seem the time to ask the police to prioritize me. There were more than enough journalists on the scene and I doubt I’d have done better than they will.

What we know is this: at least two masked attackers. Kalashnikovs. Gunmen who shouted, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” Rumors of a rocket launcher, but I suspect we should wait for confirmation on that; eyewitnesses tend to get confused about these things, especially when unused to seeing them.

The latest tweet on Charlie Hebdo’s Twitter account was a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:

This was the worst Islamic terrorist attack in Europe since the London tube bombings of 2005, and the worst of any kind since Anders Breivik.* If I’m correct — I have not checked carefully — it was also the worst in France since the Nazis were running the place.

I was there only by luck: I had no desire to see this. Luck is probably not the right word. I wish I hadn’t seen it. But lucky, certainly is the right word to use in noting that I was running late, and thus there a few minutes after the fact. Had I not been running late, it’s fairly obvious what might have happened. They weren’t discriminate in their targets.

There wasn’t much for me to do. I didn’t even have a pen on me. I spoke to a cameraman from France 3, to make sure I understood the facts. I didn’t ask if I could quote him, so I won’t use his name. But his comment summed up the sentiment. “This is the kind of thing you expect in Pakistan. And now it’s coming here.”

While I didn’t get any photos, Buzzfeed is running a few. They are warning that the images are “disturbing.” I’m so sorry if you find them disturbing, readers, but take a good long look at them anyway: they’re nothing compared to what I saw, and what I saw wasn’t “disturbing images”; they were “people who until this morning were alive, but this afternoon are dead.”



They included figures not apt to be household names in America, but certainly household names here: Charbonnier, Cabu, Wolinski, Verlhac; all alive this morning, and all of them now dead.

President François Hollande said the trivial: “No barbaric act will ever extinguish the freedom of the press.” That the statement is self-falsifying seemed to bother him little: That barbaric act literally extinguished the press. Literally. They are dead. Their freedom is thus of little relevance.

That I’m shaken is of concern to no one; my emotions are not the point. The entire city is shaken. So much that even my cab driver — I had to catch one to get home; the streets were otherwise blocked off — didn’t even ask me to pay the fare. When I said I was a journalist, and in a rush to say what little I knew, his response was, “Forget about the money. Just hurry.”

The assailants are as yet at liberty. I hope they’ll be dead by the time you read this. But if not: You want me too? Come get me. Because nothing short of killing me — and many more of my kind — will ever shut us up.

And if you don’t believe that now, you’ll believe it very soon. Because there are more of us willing to die for that freedom than those of you eager to take it from us. And soon you will find out that those of us willing to die for that freedom are also much better at killing than you.

So come and get me. Je suis Charlie.

And have a good long look at the cartoon below. Because you may have been able to kill its authors, but you sure didn’t kill what they created. And nor will we ever let you.

There are things I’m not allowed to say on Ricochet. But if I were allowed to say them, this is what I’d say—though I’d add a few other words.

Go ahead. Make my day. Because you’ve got no idea what we’re capable of when we are pushed too far. And you are more than pushing your luck.


Cover image credit: By Thierry Caro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

** To join the conversation on posts like this — and to support Ricochet’s ability to continue providing them for you — please become a Ricochet member today. Memberships are available for as little as $5 a month.** 

* Editor’s note: The original version of the post neglected mention of Anders Breivik; the correction was provided and requested by the author.

There are 132 comments.

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  1. user_517406 Inactive

    Claire, how horrible, terrifying and shocking. They will be caught and punished, and we hope the world is finally galvanized to call out these evil people for their evil. I’m glad you were running late this morning though.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens

    Prayers for all effected and for you Clarie. No place is safe.

    • #2
  3. Salamandyr Inactive

    Claire, thank you for posting this.  I’m sorry for you what you had to see, but grateful you were there.  Such courage needs bearing witness.

    Je suis Charlie.

    • #3
  4. das_motorhead Inactive

    Thank you Claire. For your report, yes, but especially for your courage to stand with Charlie-Hebdo and call the monsters what they are. As Salamandyr said, for bearing witness to the courage of others.

    Be safe.

    • #4
  5. Butters Inactive

    I don’t fault journalists or anyone else who doesn’t want to put they and their families and coworkers lives at risk in order to prove a point.

    It’s the responsibility of Hollande to defend the freedom of speech of his people.

    • #5
  6. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    Horrors and, yet again, prayers!  Thank you for your bravery and honesty, Claire…Stay safe!

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer

    Thank you, Claire. We’re so glad you’re safe and all very grateful for you making yourself write this. It couldn’t have been easy.

    • #7
  8. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    Your words are moving and inspiring. Thank you.

    • #8
  9. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno

    What does the al-Baghdadi cartoon mean?   I figured out the other.

    • #9
  10. Klaatu Inactive

    Thank you Claire. Glad to hear you are safe and I pray the animals who perpetrated this atrocity are quickly found and dealt with.

    • #10
  11. Penfold Member

    I want to say proud, bold, angry things to these scum.  But it’s too easy here, feeling safe in my little Midwestern town.  I only hope I’d have the same courage as you if I felt I was under the same immediate threat.  God bless and thank you.

    • #11
  12. das_motorhead Inactive

    If I may, this was linked in the Buzzfeed article:

    • #12
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist

    Penfold:I want to say proud, bold, angry things to these scum. But it’s too easy here, feeling safe in my little Midwestern town. I only hope I’d have the same courage as you if I felt I was under the same immediate threat. God bless and thank you.


    • #13
  14. MarciN Member

    Prayers for Paris.

    • #14
  15. Dex Quire Inactive
    Dex Quire

    Thank you for this Claire.

    I wish every magazine newspaper publishing organ in the world would print something in solidarity with  Charlie….now…

    • #15
  16. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa

    Thanks, Claire.  Truly sickening.

    • #16
  17. user_7742 Inactive

    This horrific attack is sure to fuel the growing anti-Islamic movements in Sweden, Germany and of course, France. The days of political correctness may be coming to an end.

    Thanks, Claire. Stay safe.

    Je suis Charlie!

    • #17
  18. user_1938 Member

    Thanks, Claire.

    Butters: I don’t fault journalists or anyone else who doesn’t want to put they and their families and coworkers lives at risk in order to prove a point. [….]

    I won’t judge them either. But everyone has family and friends. Everyone has people who care and people to care about; people who might suffer in retribution for one’s own actions. Consequently, that’s not an acceptable excuse for silence and inaction.

    Justice is a responsibility of all, not just some. But we should indeed be prudent and not waste our lives on frivolous jabs.

    • #18
  19. 1967mustangman Inactive

    I think your Tweet is the best summation of my sentiments Claire!  Go check it out everyone.

    • #19
  20. ParisParamus Member

    Tommy De Seno:What does the al-Baghdadi cartoon mean? I figured out the other.

    Yeah, I speak pretty good French, and I don’t even get that one; kind of like a New Year’s greeting to the thug depicted?

    • #20
  21. billy Inactive

    Well, our President did say that the future does not belong to those who slander the Prophet  of Islam (pbuh).

    I guess today kind of proves him right.

    • #21
  22. Moderator

    Boy, just wait until the vast majority of “moderate” Muslims hear about this atrocity. Those terrorist guys will be in big trouble….
    Maybe Hillary and Barrack can reprise their apology tour–reminding everyone that it was worong of us to allow free speech whch lead to offensive videos that caused the wholly understandable attack on a US consulate and the murde of an ambassador.

    Frankly, I refuse to accept the platitude that these vile murderers are not representative of “true” Islam unless and until “moderate” Muslims deliver the killers’ bodies to the nearest police station and unless and until Islamofascists everywhere are afraid to act or openly espouse their primitive ideology because it is so offensive to their fellow Muslims.

    • #22
  23. Matede Inactive

    Thank you for this Claire I was trying to figure out exactly what happened today. This is such an assault on our Western freedoms. Stay safe and I’ll keep all involved in our prayers

    • #23
  24. SoCalUSA Member

    Thank you. Why don’t all of the worlds press agree to print anti Islamic extremist cartoons every day on the front pages?

    • #24
  25. Matede Inactive

    SoCalUSA:Thank you. Why don’t all of the worlds press agree to print anti Islamic extremist cartoons every day on the front pages?

    when the Danish cartoon protests erupted there was a woman in Washington state or Oregon who launched a draw a cartoon of mohammad day. She eventually had to go into hiding.

    • #25
  26. 1967mustangman Inactive

    When I was at Portland State some one at the school newspaper printed a cartoon of Jesus wearing a suicide bomb vest.  I am sure they thought they were being edgy or profound, but of course it completely missed the point. No Christians tried to kill the cartoonist.

    • #26
  27. user_1700 Coolidge


    SoCalUSA:Thank you. Why don’t all of the worlds press agree to print anti Islamic extremist cartoons every day on the front pages?

    when the Danish cartoon protests erupted there was a woman in Washington state or Oregon who launched a draw a cartoon of mohammad day. She eventually had to go into hiding.

    Molly Norris. She now goes by another name, on the advice of the FBI:

    Prayers for your safety, Claire, and thanks for the bracing report.

    • #27
  28. user_1938 Member

    I can’t help but think back to the rampant arson in Paris years ago.


    I won’t go so far as to say this attack is a consequence of that pitiful resistance to “youths” burning cars. But to brutes a reserved response is a weak response. Make them the ones who must live in fear.

    I hope these killers are not treated with such foolish deference with which the American government treated Nidal Hasan.

    • #28
  29. Sandy Member

    Thank you, Claire, for writing exactly the right words.

    • #29
  30. No Caesar Thatcher
    No Caesar

    What is the law on concealed carry in France?

    • #30

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