Elsa Cayat, a columnist for the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, was shot dead in an attack on their Paris office by heavily armed gunmen in January 2015. In December 2020, 14 people received a guilty verdict and were sentenced for the killing; for two people who appealed, the judgment became final in October 2022.
On January 7, 2015, around 11:30 a.m., two men wearing black balaclavas armed with Kalashnikov machine guns entered the newsroom, news reports said. At the entrance, the attackers killed one person and proceeded to the second floor, where a Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting was taking place.
Among the victims were Cayat; Moustapha Ourrad, a copy editor; Philippe Honoré, a columnist; Stephane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo; Bernard Maris, a shareholder and columnist who wrote under the pen name “Uncle Bernard”; and cartoonists Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, Georges Wolinski, and Bernard Verlhac, known as Tignous.
Cayat was a practicing psychoanalyst and psychotherapist who wrote a biweekly column for Charlie Hebdo called “Charlie Divan” (Charlie’s couch). She was also the author of several books and essays.
Charlie Hebdo has been under threat from Islamic extremists and under police protection since the magazine was firebombed in 2011, a day after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad and a spoof edition “guest edited” by the Prophet.
The attack occurred in a highly tense and politically volatile climate in a country confronted with the departure of hundreds of French citizens to fight with Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq; controversies around the place of Islam in French society; and the rise of the nationalist political party National Front, which topped the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament.
Charlie Hebdo’s most recent cover before the attack featured a cartoon of writer Michel Houellebecq, whose new book “Soumission” (Submission), published the same day as the attack, imagined the victory of a Muslim president by 2022 in France.
In the days following the attack, police identified two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, as the gunmen. On January 9, 2015, following a standoff with police during which the brothers held one hostage, the two were shot dead in a printing warehouse northeast of Paris. The hostage was freed.
On January 14, 2015, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. The statement said the attack was ordered by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and was in response to the publication’s caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.
On December 16, 2020, a Paris court found guilty 14 suspects—three in absentia—of crimes ranging from membership of a criminal network to complicity in the attacks. Two men appealed the verdict and were sentenced to life and 13 years in prison, respectively, on October 20, 2022, for complicity in a terrorist attack and conspiring with the attackers.