On this day in 2015, two gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo – a Parisian newspaper that featured controversial cartoons – and opened fire. After massacring a number of journalists and cartoonists at the paper’s 11th arrondissement office, the pair took to the streets and engaged in running firefights with police, killing several more people in the process. After hijacking a vehicle and evading police, the two men were shot by police on January 7th in Dammartin-en-Goële, 30 km (18.6 miles) north of Paris. They had killed 12 people and wounded 11. The pair, who were brothers, were trained and sponsored by AQAP (or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula); their attack was motivated by Charlie Hebdo’s “blasphemous” depictions of the Prophet in its cartoons.
The two men – who will remain unnamed here – were radicalized at a young age. One was apparently outraged by American atrocities committed in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison camp, and sought training from AQAP in Yemen for what he predicted would be a showdown between Islam and the West. After planning their attack, the brothers purchased military-grade weaponry such as assault rifles and grenade launchers from a black market dealer in Brussels. Both men were known to French police for various terrorism-related charges as far back as 2008; but due to a lack of cooperation between European police agencies (due, some have argued, to a European mistrust of police agency cooperation stemming from the Cold War), the men were able to move freely with their illegal weapons.
In the wake of the attack, the French government updated its Vigipirate threat scale and increased its military presence in major cities. The Charlie Hebdo attack – which corresponded with a wave of high profile terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere in the West – is one of the most striking examples of modern terrorism. In response, many Western nations ramped up their security efforts and dedicated more resources and troops to the fight against ISIL in the Middle East; additionally, the ensuing years saw an increase in Islamophobic media and political rhetoric.
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