Claire Berlinski wasn’t working as a journalist earlier today, but she happened to be right in the area of the terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo:
If I sound incoherent, it’s because I am shaken. The reasons will be obvious.
I had no intention of reporting on this from the scene of the Charlie-Hebdo massacre. I was walking up Boulevard Richard Lenoir to meet a friend who lives in the neighborhood. But the moment I saw what I did, I knew for sure what had happened. A decade in Turkey teaches you that. That many ambulances, that many cops, that many journalists, and those kinds of faces can mean only one thing: a massive terrorist attack.
I also knew from the location just who’d been attacked: Charlie-Hebdo, the magazine known for many things, but, above all, for its fearlessness in publishing caricatures of Mohamed. They’d been firebombed for this in 2011, but their response — in effect — was the only one free men would ever consider: “As long as we’re alive, you’ll never shut us up.”
They are no longer alive. They managed to shut them up.
The only thing I didn’t immediately know was how many of them had died.
All of them, it seems, or close enough. So did two police officers who had been assigned to protect their offices. Twelve are dead for sure; I assume that number will rise; seven are seriously injured. It was at the time I was there unclear how many were wounded.
And the attackers are still at large.
Given that two police officers are dead, now doesn’t seem the time to say what comes to mind about the fact that the assailants escaped. It will say this much though: if they’re not dead before nightfall, I’ll say exactly what comes to mind, respect for the dead be damned.
This was the Twitter update sent shortly before the attack began:
Meilleurs vœux, au fait. pic.twitter.com/a2JOhqJZJM
— Charlie Hebdo (@Charlie_Hebdo_) January 7, 2015
This was the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the London tube bombings of 2005. If I’m correct — I have not checked carefully — it was also the worst in France since the Nazis were running the place.
I was there only by luck: I had no desire to see this. Luck is probably not the right word. I wish I hadn’t seen it. But lucky, certainly is the right word to use in noting that I was running late, and thus there a few minutes after the fact. Had I not been running late, it’s fairly obvious what might have happened. They weren’t discriminate in their targets.
There wasn’t much for me to do. I didn’t even have a pen on me. I spoke to a cameraman from France 3, to make sure I understood the facts. I didn’t ask if I could quote him, so I won’t use his name. But his comment summed up the sentiment. “This is the kind of thing you expect in Pakistan. And now it’s coming here.”