A suspected young Muslim man stabbed two people yesterday outside the former Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It’s the spot where terrorists killed 12 people in 2015. French authorities have initiated a terrorism investigation into the new attack. French police had arrested the suspect a month ago for carrying a screwdriver. However, the man was not on police radar for Islamic radicalisation, France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
The minister said the screwdriver was considered a weapon but did not explain why.
The attack left two people wounded after which the police arrested two suspects. The links between the two arrested suspects weren’t immediately clear.
Paris Police arrested the main suspect, a young man with speckles of blood on his forehead and wearing orange gym shoes, on the steps of the Bastille Opera in eastern Paris, authorities said. The site is not far from where the 25 September attack took place. It is outside the building where the weekly Charlie Hebdo was located before the 2015 attack.
The interior minister said the assailant had arrived in France three years ago as an unaccompanied minor, apparently from Pakistan, but the authorities are still ascertaining his identity. “Manifestly it’s an act of Islamist terrorism,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in an interview with public broadcaster France 2. “Obviously, there is little doubt. It’s a new bloody attack against our country, against journalists, against this society.”
France’s counterterrorism prosecutor had said earlier that authorities suspected a terrorist motive because of the place and timing of the stabbings. It was in front of the building where the office of Charlie Hebdo used to be situated. After the Islamic extremist attack on its cartoonists, the office moved to a different address. The suspects in the 2015 attack are on trial across Paris.
Prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said that the police had arrested the chief suspect in Friday’s stabbings along with another person.
Ricard said the assailant did not know the people he stabbed. They were a woman and a man working at a documentary production company who had stepped outside for a smoke break.
Paris authorities opened an investigation into the “attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise,” according to the terrorism prosecutor’s office.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, meanwhile, said that the lives of the two wounded workers were not in danger. He offered his government’s support to their families and colleagues.
The prime minister noted the “symbolic site” of the attack, “at the very moment where the trial into the atrocious acts against Charlie Hebdo is underway.” He promised the government’s “unfailing attachment to freedom of the press, and its determination to fight terrorism.”
People in the Paris neighbourhood are stunned. They said on French television that they were reliving the nightmare of the newsroom massacre.
In a tweet, Charlie Hebdo strongly condemned the stabbings. “This tragic episode shows us once again that fanaticism, intolerance, the origins of which will be revealed by the investigation, are still present in French society… There is no question of ceding anything,” the newspaper said.
The two people confirmed injured worked for documentary film company Premieres Lignes, said founder Paul Moreira. He told France’s BFM television that the attacker fled into the subway and the police evacuated the company’s staff members.
Moreira said a man in the street of Paris “attacked two people who were in front of the building, didn’t enter the building, and who attacked them with an axe and who left.” He said the company had not received any threats. His colleague, Luc Hermann, describing witnesses’ version of the attack, said the assailant first struck the woman in her face, then the man, before returning to attack the woman again. “The whole team … took refuge on the roof of the building like our team did five years ago during the attack of Charlie Hebdo,” he said on France 2.
Moreira said it was “incomprehensible” that the authorities had not taken special security precautions, particularly at this time.
A wrenching, two-month trial in the Charlie Hebdo attacks is currently unfolding at the main Paris courthouse. Murmurs broke at the terrorism trial of 14 people, including 3 fugitives, accused of helping the attackers in the January 2015 killings, as the news filtered through.
The widows of the two brothers who forced their way into the newspaper’s offices and opened fire at a morning editorial meeting testified Friday.
Caty Richard, a lawyer for the Charlie Hebdo journalists, heard about the knife attack in the midst of the trial. “My first thought was this will never end,” she said. “I am devastated, angry.” The interior minister conceded that security was lacking on the street where Charlie Hebdo was once headquartered. He said that 775 police were protecting its new location.
But “there was an attack so we could have done better,” he said. The minister said he has ordered special protection for all “symbolic sites,” noting in particular Jewish sites ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday this weekend. A Jewish grocery store was targeted days after the Charlie Hebdo newsroom massacre in what authorities say were coordinated attacks.
Charlie Hebdo recently reproduced caricatures of the Muslim prophet that stoked the ire of some Muslims when first produced.