One year of Charlie Hebdo: Shadow of terror looms large in every corner of a different world

Editor's note: This piece was originally published on 7 January, 2016. In light of the truck attack in Nice, France, we are republishing this article.

It is exactly one year to the day when Stephane Charbonnier (Charb) and his team of satirists were deep in argument in the second-floor newsroom of Charlie Hebdo.

Amid a lot of irreverent leg-pulling and ideation, they were brainstorming about the victims of racism in France and how best to make it the subject of their next edition when the killers stormed inside, called the cartoonists by their names and sprayed bullets.

Three other editorial staff, a guest, the cartoonists’ bodyguard, a caretaker and a policeman on the pavement were also murdered.
"Allahu Akbar! The Prophet has been avenged," they cried out before driving off, secure in their belief that they have taught a lesson to the blaspheming cartoonists.

It was all over in a matter of few minutes.

One year into the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it now seems increasingly clear that those few minutes are all it took to change the way how the world at large and Europe in particular looks at and deals with terrorism.

Unlike, perhaps, the 9/11 attacks in the US, Madrid train bombings or 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, this wasn't an elaborately planned or professionally executed terrorist assault. There were no foreign militants kidnapping an airplane or sneaking past the border to inflict mayhem. There were no handlers pulling the strings from across the border and giving step-by-step instructions.

Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi were born in Paris and were known to the French authorities as radicalised troublemakers. In fact, the way their mistook Charlie Hebdo's archives for the headquarters before realising their mistake makes it clear there was little, if any, reconnaissance of the site. They didn't seem to have a concrete escape plan and even left an ID in the car.

One year already/ AFP

Representational image. AFP

And yet, the attack's far-reaching effectiveness lied in its simplicity. In an increasingly vigilant western world that figured out a way to behead terrorist groups by cutting their revenue streams, bombing bases and thwarting would-be terrorists from traveling abroad, Charlie Hebdo strike ushered in a year of altogether different and far more difficult challenges.

The Kouachi brothers were soon located and killed two days later but the massacre provided a model that would soon be replicated elsewhere. All it needed were a few motivated individuals with scant resources willing to die for their cause.

January 7, 2015, brought the terror home.

On the same day that the French police killed the Kouachi brothers in a fierce encounter, Amedy Coulibaly, a radicalised Frenchman claiming to be working with the Kouachis, took Parisian shoppers hostage in a kosher supermarket and killed four people before he was shot.

In a flurry of attacks all over the world in the past 12 months, Boko Haram continued their massacre in Nigeria, Tunisians were slaughtered, a Russian plane downed and a couple in San Bernandino gunned down party-goers. The year culminated in another round of deadly killings in Paris.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram killed over 2000 in a bloodbath in the town of Baga in Borno but the attack wasn't as widely reported.

In March, an Islamic State-affiliated terror group launched twin suicide bombing attacks at two mosques in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, killing over 100. Just a month later, about 148 were butchered in Kenya when Al Shabaab terrorists a college campus. Some survivors said the gunmen singled out non-Muslims.

This was also the year when Islamic State gained international notoriety with graphic videos of beheadings and violence. In May, they struck at a Shi'ite mosque in Saudi Arabia, killing around 150.

On June 26, Islamic State, which by now had eclipsed Al-Qaeda as the face of global terrorism, did a double strike in two different locations in the world. In Kuwait, a suicide bomber entered a Shia mosque and blew up 27 worshippers during the holy month of Ramzan.

And on the same day, a gunman singled out and shot mostly British nationals at a plush Tunisian resort. Turkey suffered twice last year. In July, and in October when Ankara twin blasts claimed over 100 lives.

Russia was not to be spared. A passenger airplane, carrying a 'home-made bomb equivalent of up to 1 kg of TNT', crashed in the Sinai desert in Egypt in October, killing all 224 on board. Islamic State claimed responsibility, again.

And in the deadliest attack in Paris since the second World War, Islamic State terrorists carried out a string of attacks in restaurants, cafes on November 13, killing 130 among which 89 were gunned down in Bataclan concert hall alone during a performance by rock group Eagles of Death Metal.
That wasn't to be the last terror strike of the year.

In December, Syed Farook, a US citizen and his Pakistan-born wife Tashfeen Malik left behind their six-month-old infant and armed.223 caliber assault rifles, entered a San Bernardino community centre where a party was under way and shot dead 14 people, many of whom had been present in their baby shower event.

On Thursday, the day of Charlie Hebdo's first anniversary, BBC reported that French police shot dead a man who was apparently trying to attack a police station.

Minutes earlier President Francois Hollande had praised his cops in a speech commemorating the Paris killings. In his address, Hollande said 5,000 extra police and gendarmes would be added to existing forces by 2017 in an "unprecedented" strengthening of French security.

Coinciding with the terror attacks, Europe found itself in the midst of a refugee crisis.

As thousands and thousands of refugees, mostly from Middle East and Africa, crossed the Mediterranean Sea or through the south-east Europe hoping for asylum in the EU, France, meanwhile, found itself torn in a culture war that threatens to rip apart its civil society.

“The divisions are huge. There are several Frances and they are clashing,” says Brice Teinturier, head of the Ipsos polling organization in France, describing a France of big cities turned towards the future, a rustbelt France that feels crushed by globalization, and a France of housing estates that feels forgotten.

Inevitably, 2015 also saw the rise of hate attacks against Muslims and dominance of xenophobic and far-right forces in the US and Europe. US presidential hopeful Donald Trump vowed to "close the American border for Muslims" and French far right leader Marine Le Pen gained prominence.
And back home in India, we can no longer be sure that Pakistan-sponsored terror is the only kind we will have to deal with.

Islamic State, which hopes to spread its caliphate from Syria to India, on Thursday threatened MIM president Asaduddin Owaisi for a statement he made in November 2015 that the terror outfit is a blot on Islam.

“Its better for you to shut your mouth on Islamic State if you don't know the truth, Islamic State will invade india soon (sic),” a Twitter handle in the name of @abotalout warned Owaisi.

One year from Charlie Hebdo, it's now a different universe.

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Updated Date: Jul 15, 2016 10:37:18 IST

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