Survivors of the 2015 terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo recounted their experiences in court this week, with some expressing frustration over a lack of support from the media in the aftermath of the attack.
“We are living under siege, in Paris, in 2020,” Fabrice Nicolino, a journalist whose legs were wounded in the attack, said to fellow reporters present in the court room, according to the New York Times.
He accused reporters who were covering the trial of not caring that the paper now works in a building with six armored doors, metal detectors, airlock rooms and police escorts who point their guns at surrounding windows when he walks in the street.
“What we are enduring, you aren’t interested in it,” he said.
Two brothers armed with assault rifles attacked the weekly’s offices in Paris in January 2015 to avenge the Prophet Muhammad for satirical cartoons of him Charlie Hebdo had published. The gunmen killed 12 people in one minute and 49 seconds.
Nicolino, who was also injured in another Islamist attack — an explosion at a Jewish film festival in 1985 — called Islamism a form of totalitarianism and said French intellectuals who called Charlie Hebdo racist and Islamophobic “are not the direct cause of the attack, but they prepared the ground for it. I will never, never, never forgive them.”
Cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau, now the weekly’s editorial director, echoed Nicolino’s sentiment, adding that people were not “combative” enough in defending freedom of expression and that the weekly was “innocent.”
“If you don’t live freely, what is the point of living,” he said.
He added that moving forward, “the attack raised a political problem: would we let a newspaper disappear because of a terrorist attack?”
“The newspaper had to come out, not only for the memory of the victims. Even if we were wounded and exhausted. It was the moment of truth in the history of the paper,” he said, according to the Irish Times.
When asked if he regretted “the publication of these cursed caricatures that created a catastrophe,” Sourisseau said no: “Either you fight for liberty or you’re a slave. That’s all. For me, the fight for liberty is a fight for life. There can be no regretting.”
Before the trial began, Charlie Hebdo reprinted cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
Fourteen people accused of providing logistical aid to the attackers are on trial in the case that is expected to last until November.
Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the brothers who perpetrated the attacks, died in a shootout with security forces two days after the attack, while a third attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, killed a police officer in a Parisian suburb and four Jewish hostages in a kosher supermarket before dying when police swarmed the building.
Wounded staffers took the stand one by one and recounted memories of the attack. The weekly’s webmaster, Simon Fieschi, spoke about damage to the vertebrae in his spine so severe that he was left almost three inches shorter and with heavily impaired motor functions. His ribs and shoulder blade were also shattered in the attack.
“I have no desire to offer up my pain to all of those who inflicted it upon me,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t want to hide the consequences of these acts.”
The lack of support from the media was demonstrated in internal emails from Al Jazeera leaked to National Review in 2015, in which some reporters and editors at the Qatar-based news organization were overtly critical of Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Then-English editor and executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr wrote in one email, “Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile.”
“Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response — however illegitimate — is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you,” he added.