PARIS – The French satirical paper whose staff was decimated in a violent attack by Islamic extremists in 2015 is reprinting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad cited by the killers, declaring "history cannot be rewritten nor erased."
The announcement on Tuesday came on the eve of the first trial for the January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and, two days later, a kosher supermarket. The killings touched off a wave of violence claimed by the Islamic State group across Europe. Seventeen people died — 12 of them at the editorial offices — along with all three attackers.
Thirteen men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics go on trial Wednesday. In an editorial this week accompanying the caricatures, the paper best known for vulgar irreverence said that although it had declined to publish caricatures of Muhammad since the attacks, doing so for the opening of the trial was necessary.
“The only reasons not to stem from political or journalistic cowardice,” the editorial said.
As the attackers, brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, walked away from the carnage, they cried out “We have avenged the Prophet.” Claiming the attacks in the name of al-Qaida, they then killed a wounded policeman point-blank and drove away.
Two days later, a jailhouse acquaintance of theirs stormed a kosher supermarket on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, killing four hostages and claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group. The Kouachi brothers had by then holed up in a printing office with another hostage. All three attackers died in near-simultaneous police raids.
The supermarket attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, also killed a young policewoman.
The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in the fall of 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests in early 2006 by Muslims who believe depicting Muhammad is blasphemy. Charlie Hebdo, which was then little-known outside France and regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths, republished them soon afterwards.
The paper's Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.
Laurent Sourisseau, the paper's director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week's edition.
“Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular,” wrote Sourisseau, who is also known as Riss.
Three of the accused, including the wife of one of the attackers, will not be at the trial because they are abroad and it's not known if they're alive or dead.
Most of the 11 who will appear in court say they knew it was for a crime but claim they had no idea it was for mass killings.
Among those inside the market was Lassana Bathily, an employee whose home village in Mali was just 20 kilometers from that of Coulibaly’s. Bathily hid a group of the store’s Jewish customers in a cold room and slipped out to warn police about the terror attack inside. Eleven days later, the unlikely hero was granted French citizenship. He is among nearly 200 plaintiffs at the trial.
“We want to know what really happened even if the terrorists won’t be there. I hope that those who worked with them, helped them financially will be punished for what they did. That’s the only thing we expect," Bathily said. “We want to know the truth because we don’t know anything, we’ve heard nothing for the past five years.”
The world rallied behind France in the days after the killings. Leaders from around the world joined millions of people who poured into Paris’ enormous République plaza and other gathering spots in France bearing defiant signs that read “I am Charlie.”
But the January 2015 attacks were seen as a colossal intelligence failure for France. At least one of the Kouachi brothers had traveled to Yemen to train with al-Qaida. Chérif Kouachi, the younger, acknowledged as much in an interview with a French television network during their final siege. Said Kouachi was under surveillance until mid-2014. In a 2008 interview with Le Monde newspaper, Coulibaly himself described prison, where he met Chérif Kouachi then awaiting trial on terrorism charges, as “the best crime school.” Their jailhouse mentor is among those scheduled to testify.
Afterwards, the French government reorganized its intelligence structure, raised the national security budget and hired hundreds more investigators to monitor homegrown extremists.
“The opening of this trial is the moment to remember that the fight against Islamist terrorism is a major priority of the government," Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Monday in a speech at the French intelligence headquarters. "We will fight relentlessly.”
The trial will be filmed for posterity, a rarity in France reserved for proceedings of historical import.
One of the three absent defendants is Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s wife who fled to Syria days ahead of the attacks. She took a starring role in one of Islamic State’s propaganda blitzes, urging French Muslims, men and women alike, to follow her path.
French media reported that a woman who returned from Syria encountered Boumedienne last year at the enormous al-Hol camp for Islamic State families, living under an assumed name. Since then, the camp has seen numerous escapes.
Oleg Cetinic contributed from Paris.