Attack a "very deep shock" for France - Minister

Attack at the offices of the weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo – Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to CNN¹

Paris, 8 January 2015



Q. – Today Le Monde’s title says this is France’s 9/11. Does it strike you that this is such a severe blow to France to call it that?

THE MINISTER – It’s a very, very, deep profound shock. It’s the biggest attack we’ve experienced for 50 years. It’s not just any attack, not because of its scale but because it’s against journalists, your colleagues. It’s true that people are deeply shocked by what happened yesterday. There have been rallies in many towns and cities to condemn the attack. Rallies are also being held in many [other] countries. And the French President and I are also receiving a number of messages from colleagues from all over the world.

It really is an very, very deep shock. If we try and consider the reasons that led the terrorists to strike, I think they struck because of what France is and because of what it does. France is a country of freedom.


Q. – (…) What can you tell me about the investigation? How are you going to get these people? Do you think you will?

THE MINISTER – I hope so. As we speak, these people have been spotted and located in a French region not very far from Paris. It’s true that there’s a strong police presence. Two hours after the attack, the terrorists were identified. I do hope they’re arrested, tried and sentenced: that’s the job of the police and the courts.

Q. – Did the other attack in France this morning, in Paris, have any connection to yesterday’s attack?

THE MINISTER – I don’t know yet. There may be a copycat element, i.e. when a spectacular attack occurs – it’s happened in the world –, even if there’s no organic link, there may then be people who, because they see what’s happened and belong to the same ideological movement, do the same thing. But for the moment we haven’t established whether or not there’s any correlation between the two.

Q. – What can you tell me about these men? (…) They were known to the authorities. (…)

THE MINISTER – I myself am not going to talk to you about these people, because for the moment the investigation is under way and I have nothing to add. But what’s certain is that the way the attack was organized shows there’s a complete change in the terrorist methods. Not only are these people of French nationality but their attack was targeted too. They wanted to hit journalists, whereas previously, attacks were often committed by foreigners and were so-called indiscriminate attacks; here, it was very targeted.

Global jihadism/trends

This change must be seen in relation to another change – not only in France but in many other countries –, namely that you have many people from Europe, Asia, North Africa and South America who are linked to jihadists on terrorist operations in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

To take only the case of France, our investigations had already shown it in Africa, and extremely powerfully, but it must be known, for example, that there are just over 1,000 French people concerned and that a number of them have died over there, in Syria and Iraq, and a number of them have returned and we’re trying to follow them. Of those 1,000 or so people, 30% are women, 30% young people and 20% converts; and that’s radically different.

Q. – Do you know whether these brothers had been to Syria or Iraq?

THE MINISTER – I won’t give any information about that.

Q. – France has been warning for a long time that it would face blowback from what’s happening in Syria and in Iraq. You were very afraid of something like this happening. It’s happened. (…) Do you think this is a one-time attack? Or are you prepared for more?

THE MINISTER – We’ve known it for a long time, and not only France but a number of European countries and the United States. All the world’s countries are under threat, and what you really have to understand is that these terrorists, whether they’re nationals or foreigners, aren’t concerned only by what’s happening in their country: terrorism is a global threat. Clearly, the countries which are very committed to this fight against terrorism are under threat, and so we know we have terrorists on our soil. We’ve already thwarted several attacks. Unfortunately you can’t thwart 100% every attack in France.

International cooperation/support

The consequence is simply that the international job of cooperation must be done. I spoke on the telephone yesterday to John Kerry, my British colleague, Philip Hammond, and others. They told me – I entirely agree – that they’re happy we are working completely in unison; the same is true of the Arab countries. What’s very important is that there have been statements from many Arab countries utterly condeming this attack. You’ve seen, for example, that the head of a big mosque in Egypt, who is a major figure, said it was clearly the opposite of what Islam says, and that statement counts. These people who claim to act in the name of Islam are the opposite of Islam, and they want to provoke divisions in our societies between Muslims and non-Muslims. We must have the opposite reaction, which consists in saying: contrary to their desire to frighten and divide us, we must be united.

Charlie Hebdo/press freedom

Q. – France has had to defend basic values over the years: the value of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of expression. But you yourself once said about this very magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that it was pouring fuel on fire, that it was being very, very provocative. How difficult is it, do you think, to have this kind of freedom of expression? Do you think they went too far?

THE MINISTER – No. You’re right to ask that question, because we must be very clear. Press freedom is a sacred principle. There’s no democracy if there’s no press freedom. That doesn’t mean you always like what you read. Charlie Hebdo, on many occasions, has been provocative for France, and that was also their raison d’être. When there’s provocation, there’s the law. If you’re not satisfied with what’s in the press – be it in the US and Britain or in France – it’s possible to take matters to court. But in no circumstances can you commit terrorist acts and kill those who are simply doing their job. It’s very important for this newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, to live on, because despite everything that is being said, if Charlie Hebdo stops because its journalists have been killed, then the terrorists will finally have won. So press freedom is freedom. When things are arguable, the courts are there to judge, but never, never violence./.

¹Source of English questions: CNN.

Last modified on 09/01/2015

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