In Depth

Charlie Hebdo: why was the satirical magazine attacked?

The 'barbaric attack' on Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead is not the first time the magazine has been targeted

Armed gunmen burst into the offices of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo today, killing 12 people and wounding at least 40 more.

The motivation behind the attack appears to be Charlie Hebdo's long history of mocking religions, particularly Islam. Witnesses said that the gunmen said they were defending Mohammed as they opened fire. But this isn't the first time the magazine has been attacked.

Why was Charlie Hebdo targeted?

Charlie Hebdo has a long history of publishing provocative cartoons and features lampooning religions and religious figures, including Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

In 2006, the magazine reprinted a controversial cartoon that depicted the Prophet Mohammed which had first been printed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The cartoons prompted protests by Muslims around the world and threats against the cartoonist.

Charlie Hedbo's reprint of the cartoons "gained it as much notoriety as the Danish newspaper", Time says. Then-French President Jacques Chirac was critical of the magazine's decision to print the cartoons saying "Anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised in a spirit of responsibility."

Has the magazine been attacked before?

Today's attack is not the first time Charlie Hebdo has been targeted. On 2 November 2011, the magazine's offices were firebombed after the editor-in-chief announced that the Prophet Mohammed would guest edit the publication's next edition. No one was hurt in the explosion which occurred early in the morning, but the magazine's offices were completely destroyed, forcing the staff to find new premises.

It responded in the next edition with a cover showing a male cartoonist kissing a Muslim man on the lips, with the caption "Love is stronger than hate".

A year later in 2012 France put its embassies around the world on alert and there were calls for calm after the magazine published cartoons today mocking a naked Prophet Mohammed.

Was today's attack linked to the magazine's latest front page?

The magazine's editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard, escaped today's attack because he was in London at the time. He told France Inter that in his view the incident was not linked to the latest cover, which features novelist Michel Houellebecq. He has made controversial statements about Islam, The Guardian reports, and his latest novel, Submission, which satirises France under a Muslim president, is released this week.

Biard said that as far as he was aware no recent threats had been made against the publication: "Not to my knowledge, and I don't think anyone had received them as individuals, because they would have talked about it. There was no particular tension at the moment."

Biard added that he couldn't comprehend the attack: "I am shocked that people can have attacked a newspaper in France, a secular republic. I don't understand it. I don't understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war."

Could anything else have prompted it?

Minutes before the attack the magazine published a tweet featuring a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State militant group that has threatened France, offering his best wishes for the new year.

What happens next?

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that France was now on a high-security alert. He said that all measures would be taken "to neutralise these three criminals who have committed this barbaric act".

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