Paris cleaver attack suspect says wanted to target Charlie Hebdo

Updated 27 Sep 2020


A French policeman stands near the Opera Bastille where the suspect was arrested.
A French policeman stands near the Opera Bastille where the suspect was arrested.

PARIS: A Pakistan-born teenager has admitted to stabbing two people with a meat cleaver outside the former Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, investigators said on Saturday, with nine people now detained.

The 18-year-old said he wanted to avenge the republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) by the satirical weekly, which in January 2015 was also targeted by gunmen.

The attack on Friday came three weeks into a trial in Paris of suspected accomplices in the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket that left 17 people dead.

Read: The Charlie Hebdo challenge

While the man is believed to have carried out the stabbings alone, eight other people are now also under arrest following two more detentions on Saturday.

The two new individuals arrested were the suspect’s younger brother and another acquaintance, a judicial source said.

The man, who said he was born in Pakistan and is 18, “takes responsibility for his action”, a source close to the investigation said.

The man said during questioning he places his actions “in the context of the republication of cartoons” in Charlie Hebdo on the eve of the trial opening.

The people wounded were employees of prize-winning TV production agency Premieres Lignes, whose offices are in the same block in central Paris that used to house Charlie Hebdo.

However, it is not believed that the two, who had stepped out onto the street for a cigarette break, were specifically targeted.

The man mistakenly believed Charlie Hebdo's offices were still in that building and wanted to attack journalists from the magazine, a source close to the inquiry said, confirming information first published in the Le Parisien newspaper.

Charlie Hebdo moved offices after the 2015 attack and its current address is kept secret for security reasons. The two victims were badly wounded but their lives are not in danger.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the attack was “clearly an act of Islamist terrorism”. Anti-terror prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Five of the individuals detained were in an apartment in Pantin in the northern Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, the last presumed address of the suspected attacker.

Police also released another man who was close to the scene of the attack but who was confirmed to have been a witness who had “chased the assailant”, a judicial source said.

The young man, who arrived from Pakistan three years ago, was believed to have last lived in a small flat in a four-storey building in the district.

“He was very polite. I often saw him sitting on the landing with his telephone. He helped me carry my groceries,” said one neighbour, who identified herself as Josiane. Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday hailed the “efficiency” of the security forces following the attack during a visit to police headquarters, and said the “enemies of the Republic will never win”.President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has in recent weeks begun using increasingly tough rhetoric on domestic security issues in what analysts see as a shift to the right.

The interior minister admitted that the risk of an attack around the former offices had been “underestimated” and said he had asked for an explanation from the police.

“There was an attack, when there was an attack, it is obvious that we could have done better”, he said.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2020