At least two people were seriously wounded in a knife attack in front of the former offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Friday. The incident sparked a manhunt through the French capital and prompted France’s counterterrorism prosecutor’s office to launch an investigation.
The two victims, a man and a woman, were left with critical injuries after being attacked while taking a cigarette break in front of the newspaper’s old building, according to reports.
The pair were employees of the documentary production company “Premières Lignes,” which is based in the same building as the former Charlie Hebdo offices; many of the company’s staff had previously witnessed the 2015 terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices, in which 12 people were killed.
In comments to France’s Info TV, Luc Hermann, the director of Premières Lignes, criticized what he said was a “total absence of protection of this building since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.”
The French satirical newspaper has repeatedly been targeted by radical Islamists for its ridicule of religion, and had received fresh threats only this month.
During a visit to the scene Friday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that two individuals — one of whom he described as the “key suspect” — had been detained, and that the victims’ injuries were not life-threatening.
While investigators are still interviewing the suspects to determine their motivation, Castex said that the attack had occurred “in a symbolic place,” and France’s national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation into “attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise.”
One witness told France’s Europe 1 radio that they were in their office and “heard screaming in the street.”
“I looked out of the window and saw a woman who was lying on the floor and had taken a whack in the face from what was possibly a machete.”
Twelve people were killed in a jihadist attack on the newspaper’s offices in January 2015, and the newspaper had recently received fresh threats after it republished a series of inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed earlier this month.
The newspaper republished the cartoons to coincide with the start of the trial of 14 alleged accomplices of the terrorists who carried out the 2015 attacks.
The publication of the cartoons — including one of the Prophet with a bomb for a turban — drew protests and condemnation from a number of Muslim countries, as well as threats from Al Qaeda extremists of another massacre. The newspaper’s head of human resources, Marika Bret, told French magazine Le Point on Tuesday that police had considered the threats to be credible enough that officers had whisked her out of her home.
The new threats provoked a show of solidarity from the French media industry this week, with more than 100 outlets signing an open letter Wednesday declaring their support and denouncing, “new totalitarian ideologies, sometimes claiming to be inspired by religious texts.”
Charlie Hebdo relocated its offices out of the neighbourhood in the wake of the 2015 killings; its current address is kept secret due to the threat of further attacks. A mural commemorating the victims is painted on a wall near the scene of the attack.
This is a developing story and will be updated when new information becomes available.