Jan. 7, 2022

The Charlie Hebdo Shooting

The Charlie Hebdo Shooting

January 7, 2015. Two gunmen storm the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine.

This episode of History Daily has been archived, but you can still listen to it as a subscriber to Noiser+, Wondery+, or as a Prime Member with the Amazon Music app.


Cold Open

CONTENT WARNING: A listener note: this episode contains references to terrorist violence. It may not be suitable for all audiences.

It’s 11.30 AM on January 7th, 2015, in central Paris.

In a second-floor office in an anonymous building, Stephane Charbonnier, editor of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, smiles as his team’s weekly meeting descends into its usual good-natured chaos. Fueled by pastries and coffee, the fifteen newsroom staff members trade jokes across the table as they discuss ideas for the next issue.

There’s one man out of place among the journalists and cartoonists. In the corner, stands an armed bodyguard, a policeman named Franck Brinsolaro.

The Charlie Hebdo magazine has long courted controversy. Its biting satire has targeted everyone and everything from politics to religion. But it’s the magazine’s caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad that have provoked the most outrage. Most Muslims believe that depictions of the Prophet are forbidden – Charlie Hebdo’s satirical cartoons of Muhammad have offended many and made the magazine the target of extremists. In 2011, a firebomb destroyed the magazine’s offices. Nobody was hurt in the attack. But as a result, the magazine moved to an unmarked location, where every week, under the leadership of Stephane Charbonnier, they have continued to publish their unique, anarchic brand of satire.

Stephane is just finishing his coffee and about to wrap up the meeting when he hears a noise from downstairs.

Some of his colleagues also notice the noise, but they’re still laughing. It sounds like a balloon popping or a firecracker going off in the street. But Stephane’s bodyguard Franck isn’t smiling. He’s pulled out his gun. It’s the first time Stephane has ever seen him do that. A hush falls over the room, as the bodyguard slowly makes his way to the door.

Two young men stand in the doorway, dressed in black from head to toe and carrying AK-47 assault rifles. The first pauses as if surprised to see so many people in the newsroom.

Then he raises his gun and opens fire.

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo office will last less than two minutes. After the terrorists make their escape, gun-smoke will choke the air of the conference room and blood will stain the floors. Ten people, including editor Stephane Charbonnier, will be dead; the world will react in horror, and law enforcement officers will scramble to find the killers and bring them to justice.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is January 7th: The Charlie Hebdo Shooting.

Act One: Fugitives

It’s noon on January 7th, 2015, just minutes after the massacre at the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Sirens pierce the cold air of the French capital as emergency services descend on the scene. Two miles away, a small black Citroën car speeds down the street, dodging traffic. Its windows are shattered. People on the street can catch just a glimpse of the masked men inside the car as it races past.

Since escaping from the Charlie Hebdo offices, the gunmen have fought running battles with police. They chased off a patrol car with a hail of bullets, then, crossing a boulevard, shot and killed another local policeman who had come to help. As terrified onlookers watched from the windows of nearby buildings, one of the shooters raised his arm and shouted: “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed! We have killed Charlie Hebdo!” Then they climbed back into their small black car and took off.

But they are driving too fast. As they try to veer through the busy Paris traffic, there is a squeal of tires and then the crunch of metal as their car collides with another vehicle.

The traffic comes to a halt, drivers staring, as two armed men stumble from the wrecked car. Raising their guns, they haul open the door of a white Renault and force out the elderly driver. As the old man picks himself up off the ground, the two terrorists accelerate away from the scene, heading in the direction of the Porte de Pantin, one of the main routes out of the city.

Despite the police and emergency services arrowing towards the scene, the two young gunmen slip through the net. But in their hurry to escape, the terrorists make a mistake. When police come to examine their crashed car, they find Molotov cocktails, jihadist flags - and an ID card. It belongs to one of the men, a 34-year-old French national named Saïd Kouachi. Investigators are soon able to confirm that the other shooter is his brother, 32-year-old Cherif.

The manhunt is on, and with almost 90,000 police officers and soldiers scouring the country, it will be the largest in French history.


It’s 10:30 AM on January 8th.

Forty miles northeast of Paris, a white Renault pulls up at a roadside gas station. The fugitives, Saïd and Cherif Kouachi climb out. They fill their stolen car with gas, sling their weapons over their shoulders, and head toward the front door of the station.

The Kouachi brothers are the most wanted men in France. Overnight, police have searched apartments linked to them in Reims, Strasbourg, and several other cities in the Paris region, but investigators are no closer to tracking the fugitives down.

The brothers have long been known to police though. The children of Algerian immigrants, they lost their parents at an early age and were raised in state orphanages. As youngsters, they were more interested in soccer than religion, but by the early 2000s, they had been pulled into a network of Islamic extremists active in the French capital. In 2005, Cherif was arrested when he tried to reach the Middle East and join the fight against US Forces in Iraq. But Cherif’s multiple stints behind bars only deepened his fanaticism and his terrorist activities. While one brother was in and out of prison, the other was in training. Between 2009 and 2011, Saïd visited Yemen on several occasions and learned from Al-Qaeda militants how to wage war on the West. On his return to France, Saïd was put under surveillance. But that ended in 2014 when intelligence services decided there were other, more immediate threats. Just a few months later, the Kouachi brothers launched their deadly attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo.

Now, a day after the massacre, they are on the run, hunted by thousands of French police and military personnel. But as the brothers head into the gas station north of Paris, they don’t cover their faces.

A burst of gunfire sends the attendants running and the two brothers are free to roam the aisles of the gas station store, filling a black plastic bag with supplies. Then they head back to the car and drive south on the road that leads back to Paris.

The terrified staff of the gas station alert the authorities. Police cars and helicopters flood the area, but the brothers escape once again. Still, they are not the only ones committed to violence today. They have an accomplice in Paris – a third man in their terrorist cell – and very soon he will launch a deadly attack of his own.

Act Two: The Sieges

It’s the morning of January 9th, 2015. Almost two days have passed since the terrorists Saïd and Cherif Kouachi entered the Charlie Hebdo offices and opened fire. Twelve people are dead, and the two brothers are on the run.

Like everyone else in France, Michel Catalano has been following the story closely in the news. Michel runs a sign-making company in a small town twenty miles north of Paris. He’s come into the office today to meet with a supplier. It may be early, but the company’s graphic designer is already here, a young man named Lilian Lepère. Shortly before 8 AM, the door buzzer goes off and Michel heads down to meet what he assumes is his supplier.

But as he walks down the stairs, Michel sees the men at the door and the guns at their side. He realizes at once who they are. Hurrying back to the office, Michel tells Lilian to hide. Meanwhile, the two gunmen barge in and come up the stairs.

Hours earlier, the Kouachi brothers abandoned the car they had escaped Paris in and hijacked another vehicle. But the police were onto them. As helicopters roared overhead, a high-speed chase ensued, down seventeen miles of highway. The brothers exchanged gunfire with police before escaping on foot to the industrial estate where Michel Catalano has his printworks.

Michel’s young colleague, Lilian, has just seconds to hide - he squeezes into a cabinet under a sink. In the room next door, Michel faces the two terrorists alone. But the men don’t threaten him. Instead, they tell him to call the police. After doing that, Michel brings them coffee and even patches a minor neck wound on Saïd. After an hour, the two terrorists release Michel unharmed.

By now, the complex is crawling with police and special forces. Helicopters circle overhead and sharp-shooters man every rooftop. Michel’s colleague Lilian is still trapped inside under a sink. The two terrorists don’t know it, but they have a hostage. And while Lilian’s life is at risk, police are cautious, reluctant to storm the building.

But just as police, and now news cameras, train their attention on the industrial estate north of Paris, in the streets of the capital twenty miles away, another terrorist atrocity is about to occur.


While the Kouachi brothers are holed up in the industrial estate, 32-year-old Amedy Coulibaly walks into a Jewish grocery store in central Paris.

On his chest, Coulibaly has mounted a GoPro, a small portable video camera. As he enters the store, he pulls out an AK47 assault rifle and opens fire.

Coulibaly is one of the Kouachi brothers’ best friends. A Malian-French Muslim from the south of Paris, he has a long history of criminal offenses including robbery and drug-trafficking. It was in prison that he met Cherif Kouachi and embraced an extreme form of Islam. Together, they began plotting terrorist attacks.

Coulibaly sprays bullets across the shopfloor of the Jewish grocery. He kills two people instantly. Two young men then try to rush Coulibaly and disarm him, but they too are shot down. Other panicked shoppers run for their lives. A father and his three-year-old son hide in a refrigerator, while one store employee ushers six customers to safety in the basement before risking his life to sneak out and alert police.

But Coulibaly still has other hostages. Armed police surround the supermarket, but Coulibaly tells them he will kill those inside if any harm comes to his friends, the Kouachi brothers.

As the standoff stretches on, Coulibaly logs on to one of the store’s computers and uploads a video of his massacre to the internet. When a French radio station then phones the grocery store, Coulibaly picks up. He tells the station that he has attacked the grocery store to punish France for its attacks on Muslim militants overseas, and that he has coordinated his attacks with the Kouachi brothers.

But Coulibaly fails to hang up the phone properly, allowing police to eavesdrop on his activities in the store. With this information, police plot the perfect moment to take out Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers in one fell swoop.

At around 5 PM, stun grenades announce the start of the police assault. Special forces storm the Jewish grocery store. At the same time, armed police land on the roof of the printworks, where the Kouachi brothers are hiding, and enter the building.

The industrial estate and the streets of Paris ring with the sound of gunfire. Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers come out shooting, but within minutes, all three are dead.

The hostages at the Jewish grocery store will be rescued unharmed. Lilian Lepère, the graphic designer at the warehouse, will also emerge unscathed, having hidden under a sink for eight hours while using his phone to message police about the movements of the two terrorists who never knew he was there. The terrorist rampage that has transfixed France and the world for the past two days is over.

Act Three: Je suis Charlie

It’s January 11th, 2015, four days after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in central Paris. While police continue their investigations, the people of France are gathering to honor the seventeen victims killed by terrorists at the magazine’s offices, on the streets of the capital, and at the Jewish grocery store.

Millions march through the freezing boulevards of Paris. The French President, François Hollande, leads the crowd, and beside him are more than eighty leaders from around Europe and the world. The marchers in Paris are joined by thousands more at smaller demonstrations in towns and cities across the country - in total, almost four million people - the largest public rally France has ever seen.

But it is more than a memorial for those who died. Amid the banners and placards and the countless French flags fluttering over the crowds, many of those marching hold up pens. With this simple gesture, they proclaim that the written word is stronger and more enduring than any act of violence, no matter how shocking. They reaffirm their belief in the values that built the modern French state; the values that Charlie Hebdo represented – a secular nation based on free speech and a free press.

A few days later, on January 14th, just a week after the attacks began, the next edition of the Charlie Hebdo magazine will hit newsstands. Put together with the help of other newspapers and journalists, the newest edition will once again feature the Prophet Muhammed on the front cover. It will sell out instantly. Reprint after reprint will follow until 7.9 million copies have been sold, a new French record.

“We killed Charlie” boasted the terrorists after the attack. The people of France and millions more around the world replied: We are all Charlie."


Next on History Daily. January 10th, 49BC. Julius Caesar defies the Roman Senate and crosses the Rubicon

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Mollie Baack.

Sound design by Derek Behrens.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by William Simpson.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.