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Gunmen Say They “Avenge the Prophet” as They Kill 12 in Paris

Attentato Charlie Hebdo – en

© Public Domain

John Burger - published on 01/07/15

Terrorist attack seen as result of failure of immigrants to assimilate.

The terrorist attack in Paris today reflects the convergence of several problems, including the failure of Islamic immigrants to assimilate into Western society and the perpetuation of an "Islamic speech code," experts said in the wake of the mass murder.

Three gunmen who carried out today’s attack on the Paris offices of a satirical magazine are still at large, as spontaneous memorial services have sprung up all over France to honor the 12 people killed.

Just before lunchtime today, three masked men carrying Kalashnikov rifles and possibly a rocket-propelled grenade launcher stormed the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, near Place de la Bastille. Witness reported hearing the men cry out, "Allahu Akbar" and later, “We have avenged the Prophet.”

Charlie Hebdo regularly produces vulgar content mocking religions, including Islam. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. 

"The broader context is that the Islamic World is engaged in imposing Islamic speech codes on the West, and this is one such example," said Stephen C. Coughlin, an intelligence analyst who specializes in Islamic terrorism. 

Wednesday’s victims included an editor, four cartoonists and two policemen who guarded the controversial media outlet. There were also 11 wounded in the attack, four of them seriously.

The attackers fled toward the eastern part of Paris. Police said they found a car thought to have been used as an escape car in the heavily-Arab 19th Arrondissement.

UPDATE, 4:45PM: According to AP, French police officials say they have identified three men as suspects. Two officials named the suspects as Frenchmen Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, in their early 30s, as well as 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn’t immediately clear. One of the officials said they were linked to a Yemeni terrorist network.

On the scene of the attack, French President Francois Hollande said there was "no doubt" it was a terrorist attack. "We knew that we were threatened like other countries in the world because we are a free country," Hollande said.

For Richard Brennan, a fellow at the RAND Institute specializing in terrorism and national security, the attack reflects a combination of the problem of uncontrolled immigration in France, the failure of Islamic immigrant groups to assimilate into French society, the radicalization of elements of the immigrant population and the linkages those groups have to organizations like the an-Nusra Front and ISIS and others.

"The fact they had semiautomatic weapons raises the question of how they were able to get those weapons in a country where they’re much harder to get than they are in the United States," Brennan said in an interview. "That bolsters the idea that they were supported by one of the major groups."

The New York Times pointed out that the attack comes as "nearly 1,000 French citizens have gone or planned to join jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria last year, further fueling concerns about radical Islam encroaching into France."

"There’s a connection," Brennan commented. "France is one of the largest contributing nations to the foreign fighter flow. That’s part of the problem they had with open immigration and the degree to which there’s not been assimilation of that community into French society. They have their own ways of living, their own societies, and they’ve been kind of growing apart from French society as a whole. It’s a problem for all of Europe in terms of the flow of going into Iraq and Syria and the flow coming back, and this easily could have been a manifestation of somebody who went to Iraq and Syria and then came back."

Pope Francis denounced the attack in a statement released by the Holy See Press Office. The bishops’ conference of France also released a statement.  

"Pope Francis participates in prayers to the suffering of the wounded and the families of the deceased and calls upon all to oppose by all means the spread hatred and all forms of violence, both physical and moral, which destroys human life, violates the dignity of the people, radically undermines the fundamental good of peaceful coexistence between individuals and peoples, despite differences of nationality, religion and culture," read the statement, released by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. 

Calling the terrorist act "abhorrent," the Holy Father stated that violence is never justifiable and stressed that "any incitement to hatred should be refused." 

Coincidentally, the Pope was meeting with four visiting Islamic leaders from France at the time of the attack, which led the imams to issue their own denouncements. Tareq Oubrou, the rector of the mosque of Bordeaux, told the news agency I.MEDIA, "It is necessary that the Muslim community revolts" to express its disgust at the confiscation of Islam by “the crazy.”

Accompanying Oubrou to Rome was the president of the Union of Mosques in France, Mohammed Moussaoui, who said he was "appalled and shocked" by the news and noted that he had just prayed with Pope Francis that "peace and brotherhood can consolidate and strengthen the world.” Moussaoui expressed hope for a "reaction" from Muslims whose religion is "exploited by criminals."

Oubrou also called for Muslims to “take to the streets en masse to express their disgust at the confiscation of Islam by these cracked, those crazy.”

"To me that’s the one thing that hasn’t happened, that the large number of moderate Islamic people would rise up and protest and let their voices be heard when people do things like this," said Brennan. "But if you’re in those communities there’s a certain amount of fear of retribution."

Bishop Michel Dubost, president of the Council for Interreligious Relations of the Bishops’ Conference of France, guided the four imams during their visit. For the bishop, "the only answer" to this kind of act is an "outstretched hand," I.MEDIA reported. "If the only reason for living is violence, is that we have lost all sense", he commented.

UPDATE, Jan. 8: The four French imams who met with Pope Francis, together with French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, issued a statement reacting to the incident: 

As a meeting in Rome with four Imams from France comes to an end, and attending the general Audience yesterday with the delegation of the French Episcopal Conference, the participants, shocked by the heinous attack that on January 7, 2015, targeted the seat of the publication "Charlie Hebdo," wish once again to share in the words spoken yesterday and this morning by Pope Francis denouncing cruelty and indiscriminate violence. Like him, we invite believers to manifest through friendship and prayer their human and spiritual solidarity with the victims and their families.

In these circumstances, it should be noted that without freedom of expression, the world is in danger: it is imperative to "oppose by all means the spread of hatred and of all forms of violence, physical and moral, which destroy human life, which violate the dignity of people, which radically undermines the fundamental good of peaceful coexistence between individuals and peoples regardless of their differences of nationality, religion and culture." (Francis, January 7, 2015).

Religious leaders are called to further encourage a "culture of peace and hope," able to overcome fear and to build bridges between people.

Considering the impact of the media, they invite their leaders to provide information that is respectful of religions, their followers and their practices, thus promoting a culture of encounter.

Interreligious dialogue is the only way to work together to dispel prejudice.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith issued a statement condemning the terrorist attack, calling it "an attack against democracy and press freedom."

"In an international context of political tensions fueled by delusions of terrorist groups taking advantage unfairly of Islam, we call on all those committed to the values of the Republic and democracy to avoid provocations that only serve to throw fuel to the fire," the statement read. "We call on the Muslim community to exercise the utmost vigilance against possible manipulations from groups referred to extremists of any kind."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "It was a horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime. It was also a direct assault on a cornerstone of democracy, on the media and on freedom of expression." 

In the wake of the attack, Paris was placed on high alert, and mainstream media, houses of worship and educational institutions were taking precautionary measures. 

The United States is not immune to attacks of this sort, experts agree, and the Boston Marathon bombing is one example. "We’ve always had the benefit of being separated by oceans, but with … the challenges of securing borders with Canada and Mexico, anyone who is determined to come here can use any number of smuggling routes in order to get in," Brennan said. "The challenge we have is to fight this ideology that is espoused by a very small percentage of the Islamic people, but that very small percentage makes for a very large number."

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

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