The Charlie Hebdo Attacks and the Sign of Things to Come
Militants charmed by the romanticised narrative of violence in Syria and Iraq in the name of Islam would be here to stay. The Sydney cafe hostage crisis was a questionable case whether the guy was really a jihad militant. The recent Paris shootings however confirmed that Al Qaeda militants might conduct senseless killings also in their home country. Particularly if they went overseas to gain military training or experience, and returned home. In the case of the Kouachi brothers, it was Yemen and they said they attacked in the name of Al Qaeda Yemen. What was also frightening was the use of big impact big drama small team tactics like in Mumbai. The Paris trio attacked at different locations at different times and were mobile. If they were better armed and had more militants, the death toll would have been catastrophic.
French intelligence and police would be questioned for their failure to prevent the attack as it should be. They stated in their defence already that they watched the brothers and as nothing happened, they moved on. The delicate dilemma in the surveillance society in protecting the public from terrorists and protecting the public from the state itself. Murphy’s Law happened. Such crisis however strengthened the public’s resolve and resilience, although the Right wing would want to capitalise this and flame anti-Muslim anger and xenophobia. The solidarity among Muslims and non-Muslims with the inspiring human angle stories of those who survived the attacks, rallied France together, made the French stronger. Nevertheless, while France stands together in grief and renewed strength, the Paris attacks would also inspire further copycat terrorism. They always do.
Charlie Hebdo Paris shootings: Heroism and hatred
By Robert Mendick, Nicola Harley, and Harriet Alexander in Paris10:00PM GMT 10 Jan 2015
The remarkable acts of selfless courage shown by victims of the Paris attacks are emerging, as a shocked France began to come to terms with three days of terror.
With a million people, among them world leaders, expected at a unity rally in Paris on Sunday, survivors described how victims attempted to fight back against the fanatics holding them hostage at gunpoint.
One hostage died after bravely grabbing a gun discarded by the terrorist Amedy Coulibaly — only for the weapon to jam. Coulibaly, who had stormed a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris, murdered his captive in cold blood.
But the lives of many other hostages in the Hyper Cacher supermarket were saved after they were led to safety by a Muslim shopworker from Mali who guided them to a cold storeroom in the basement of the shop and locked them in.
Among the survivors were Sarah Bitton, a young Belgian mother and her 11-month-old baby, whose tears of joy at being rescued were broadcast around the world.
Mrs Bitton, 20, hid with her daughter for around four hours in a dark refrigerated room using her jacket to protect the child from hypothermia. Subsequent hospital checks showed both survived without harm.
Meanwhile, Michel Catalano has told how he confronted Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the brothers who had murdered staff at Charlie Hebdo magazine, at his printworks in Dammartin-en-Goële.
Mr Catalano hid one of his employees, Lilian Lepère, saving his life in the process, before calmly making coffee for the brothers, who had chosen his factory for their final stand. From his hiding place in a cardboard box, Mr Lepère was able to relay vital information to police about their whereabouts in the building.
The three terrorists, who had plotted the attacks over the course of at least a year, all died in Friday’s shootouts, but the wife of Coulibaly remains on the run.
Hayat Boumeddiene is now one of the world’s most wanted women. Chilling photographs of her wearing a burka and posing with a crossbow were published.
Boumeddiene is wanted for plotting the attacks amid claims that she and Chérif Kouachi’s wife made 500 phone calls to each other over the course of the year.
The latest reports suggested that she may have fled to Syria at the beginning of the January, days before the carnage, scotching earlier claims that she had been inside the supermarket with Coulibaly and had somehow escaped in the chaos that ensued following his shooting.
The tales of heroism emerged in the aftermath of the twin sieges, which ended in a hail of bullets on Friday evening. Paris remains on high security alert four days after the killing spree began with the murderous assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices on Wednesday.
A survivor of the supermarket siege told the French magazine Le Point how a hostage had tried to tackle Coulibaly, 32, by grabbing a weapon discarded on a counter.
The eyewitness — known only as Mickael B — said: “One of the customers tried to grab one of his guns which he’d left on the counter.
“It wasn’t working. The terrorist had put it there because it had blocked after the first shots. He turned and shot at the customer who died on the spot.”
Other hostages were saved by the quick thinking of Lassana Bathily, 24, a Muslim supermarket worker from Mali, who heard the first shots fired by Coulibaly.
Mr Bathily ushered frightened customers to a basement and hid them in cold storage units. Mr Bathily told the Parisien newspaper: “When they ran down, I opened the door [of the cold store]. There are several people who have come to me. I turned off the light, I turned off the freezer. I closed the door, I told them stay calm here, I’m going out.”
Mr Bathily then escaped from the building in a service lift and was able to brief police on Coulibaly’s movements and the location of the hostages, among them three toddlers.
Mr Catalano told how he ordered his employee to hide from the Kouachi brothers as they approached his building.
He said: “I knew that the two of us couldn’t hide so I went back towards them and I must admit that I thought at that point that was the end, that was the end of it.”
Incredibly, two hours after making the terrorists coffee, Mr Catalano was allowed to leave while Mr Lepère, his colleague, kept police informed from his hiding place.
Questions over French intelligence continued to rage with claims that the Kouachi brothers had been “intensively watched” for five years until the surveillance was ended in July last year.
The telephone, internet and physical surveillance was stepped up at the end of 2011, when Saïd Kouachi returned from a trip to Yemen, where he met Anwar al-Awlaki, a local al-Qaeda leader.
“But between that date and the summer of 2014, nothing suggested any connection with a radical Islamist movement – neither on the phone nor on the internet,” said a judicial source. “Given the absence of these elements, the surveillance was stopped in order to refocus on other individuals who at that moment presented a higher risk.”
The family of a Muslim police officer shot dead by the Kouachi brothers as they fled the Charlie Hebdo offices described them as “madmen” with “no religion”.
Malik Merabet said the death of his brother Ahmed Merabet was a “waste” and pleaded for unity, saying Islam must not be conflated with extremism.
During an emotional news conference, Mr Merabet said: “I am addressing myself to all racists — the Islamophobes and the anti-Semites: you must not mix up extremism with Muslims.
“The madmen have no colour nor religion. Stop… having wars or burning mosques or burning synagogues because you are attacking people. My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims.”
Up to 700,000 people rallied across France in support of those killed last week. Sunday’s unity rally in Paris may see numbers far exceeding that.