This Day In History: January 7

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Around midday on January 7, 2015, gunmen raid the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. The attack, a response to the magazine's criticism of Islam and depiction of Muhammad, demonstrated the danger of homegrown terror in Europe as well as the deep conflicts within French society.

Charlie Hebdo had a history of antagonizing and drawing threats from Islamists. In 2006, the magazine re-printed a controversial cartoon depicting Muhammad from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, earning its staff death threats. In 2011, the Charlie Hebdo office was firebombed in response to the "Sharia Hebdo" issue, which contained numerous depictions of the prophet. The magazine's director of publishing, cartoonist Stéphane "Charb" Charbonnie, was an outspoken critic of religion, particularly radical Islam, and was named to Al Qaeda's most wanted list in 2013. Like many in France, the staff of Charlie Hebdo believed in a strictly secular state and was critical of both radical Islam and the Catholic Church.

Two French brothers of Algerian descent, Saïd and Chérif Kouach, carried out the attack. They forced a cartoonist, Corinne "Coco" Rey, to open the door to the office, which was unmarked due to the previous firebombing incident. The gunmen shot and killed Charb and other members of the staff, including columnist Elsa Cayat, but spared the life of another female writer, telling her they did not kill women. After a manhunt that lasted two days, the gunmen were tracked to an industrial estate outside of Paris and killed in a gunfight with police. At roughly the same time, their acquaintance Amedy Coulibaly, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, took hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris. He killed four people, all of them Jewish, before he was killed by police.

In the wake of the attacks, tributes poured in from all over the world, many using the phrase "Je suis Charlie." The killings were perceived not only as acts of terrorism but also as an attack on free speech and the freedom of the press. "Republican marches" honoring the victims and the right to free speech were held across France on January 10th and 11th. As the phrase "Je suis Charlie" became a rallying cry the world over, some, including the surviving staff, criticized its use by those who disagreed with or were unaware of the publication's left-wing, atheist worldview. Others asked why the killings received so much more attention than others, such American drone strikes on civilians in the Middle East. Some radical Muslim clerics blamed Charlie Hebdo itself for the attack, while future U.S. President Donald Trump called the magazine "dishonest and nasty" and claimed that it was "broke."

Charlie Hebdo continued its normal publication schedule. Its first issue following the attack ran over 8 million copies, exponentially more than any previous issue. It featured works by those killed and depicted Muhammad on the cover, with a tear in his eye, holding a sign that read "Je suis Charlie."