PARIS (AFP) — A man wielding a knife seriously wounded two people in Paris on Friday in a suspected terror attack outside the former offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, three weeks into the trial of suspected accomplices in the 2015 massacre of the newspaper’s staff.
Charlie Hebdo had angered many Muslims around the world by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and in a defiant gesture ahead of the trial this month, it reprinted the caricatures on its front cover.
Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were killed in the January 7, 2015, attack by Islamist terrorists.
Paris police said two people were “critically wounded” in Friday’s attack near the paper’s former offices in the 11th district. The magazine’s current address is kept secret for security reasons.
The Premieres Lignes news production agency, which has its offices on the block, said the two wounded were its employees. One witness said they had been attacked with a machete.
The attack is being investigated by specialist anti-terror prosecutors who have opened a probe into charges of “attempted murder related to terrorism” and “conspiracy with terrorists.”
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said “the main perpetrator has been arrested” after being caught near the Place de la Bastille square, not far from the scene.
A second person was also detained later in the Bastille area and held for questioning, though Heitz did not give any details on what role the individual may have played.
‘Two colleagues wounded’
The founder and co-head of Premieres Lignes, Paul Moreira, told AFP that a man attacked two employees — a man and a woman — who were taking a cigarette break outside the building.
“They were both very badly wounded,” he said.
The production company specializes in investigative reports and produces the prize-winning Cash Investigation program.
“Two colleagues were smoking cigarettes in the street. I heard screams. I went to the window and saw a colleague, bloodied, being chased by a man with a machete,” added another employee, who asked not to be named.
Five schools in the area immediately went into lockdown, and half a dozen nearby metro stations were closed. The school lockdown was lifted shortly before 3 p.m.
“Around noon we went for a lunch break at the restaurant. As we arrived, the manager started shouting ‘Go, go there is an attack …’ We ran to lock ourselves and stay inside our shop with four customers,” Hassani Erwan, a barber aged 23, told AFP.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, visiting the scene with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, said the lives of the two victims “are not in danger, thank God.”
He reiterated the government’s “firm commitment to combat terrorism by all possible means.”
In a Twitter post, Charlie Hebdo expressed its “support and solidarity with its former neighbors… and the people affected by this odious attack.”
The stabbing came as the trial is underway in the capital for alleged accomplices of the perpetrators of the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi and claimed by a branch of Al Qaeda.
A female police officer was killed a day later, followed the next day by the killing of four men in a hostage-taking at a Kosher supermarket by gunman Amedy Coulibaly.
The 14 defendants stand accused of having aided and abetted the perpetrators of the 2015 attacks, who were themselves killed in the wake of the massacres.
The trial has reopened one of the most painful chapters in France’s modern history, with harrowing testimony from survivors and relatives of those who died.
The magazine, defiant as ever, had marked the start of the trial by republishing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had angered Muslims around the world.
Al-Qaeda then threatened Charlie Hebdo with a repeat of the 2015 massacre of its staff.
More than 100 French news outlets on Wednesday called on people to support Charlie Hebdo, taking aim against the “enemies of freedom.”
Police moved the head of human resources at Charlie Hebdo, Marika Bret, from her home following death threats received last week.
The trial in Paris had resumed Friday following a day’s pause after a suspect’s coronavirus test came back negative.
The hearing for the fourteen suspects, which opened on September 2, was postponed Thursday after Nezar Mickael Pastor Alwatik fell ill in the stand.
He was back in the box on Friday, after the presiding judge informed defense and prosecution lawyers by SMS late Thursday that the test results allowed for the trial to go ahead.
The January 2015 attacks heralded a wave of Islamist violence that has left 258 people dead and raised unsettling questions about modern France’s ability to preserve security and harmony for a multicultural society.