Unarmed French police literally retreated in the face of Islamist attackers

The two French police officers, who both lost their lives in the effort to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attackers from executing their grim mission, are heroes. Their sacrifice in defense of their fellow citizens is beyond noble, and their bravery will be remembered in the coming days.


It is not a knock on Parisian police but French domestic policy to note and criticize the fact that the first responders who arrived at the scene on bicycles and without defensive weaponry were entirely unprepared to face an ongoing attack by murderous, AK-47-wieldling Islamist gunmen. The first police to arrive at the scene of the attack were forced to withdraw in the face of superior firepower.

The Guardian reported.

“We heard shouting in the street,” Benoît Bringer, who works at a press agency on the same floor as the magazine’s offices, told France Info radio. “We saw hooded men carrying Kalashnikovs entering the building. We called the police. After a few minutes we heard heavy firing – a lot of firing, a hell of a lot. We went upstairs to take shelter on the roof. Then after about 10 minutes we saw two armed men come out on to the street. There was more shouting, more firing.

“Three policemen had arrived on bikes but had to leave because the men were armed, obviously … Then the attackers took off in a car.”

Another, unnamed witness from an office across the corridor said she and her colleagues had heard “a huge boom”. “Then someone opened the door to our office and asked where Charlie Hebdo was. He had a rifle. We backed away. Afterwards he left, we heard gunfire. We went to the windows, there were two men running with guns, speaking in bad French … They were shouting outside, and shooting again. Afterwards I saw someone leaving the building with his hands covered in blood.” [Emphasis added]

It is speculative at this stage, but it is also relatively safe to assume that if those officers had been armed they would have had an opportunity to disable the attackers before they fled. As a result of the lack of preparedness on the part of the Parisian police, the three gunmen who killed 12 and wounded 11 more remain at large. Perhaps this atrocity will result in a review of Paris’s counter-terror planning ahead of the next terrorist incident. It is surely coming.


As an aside, the final paragraph of that block quote is interesting. All morning, cable news analysts in the United States have been assuring their audiences that the audio of the attackers indicates that the terrorists were locals. They spoke perfect French, the analysts asserted, and their accents did not indicate any foreign origin.

But the local Parisians who recalled hearing the attackers speak “bad French” suggests otherwise. Now, comments like these could be simple chauvinism. The majority Muslim areas of Paris are often sequestered from the rest of French society and might have developed their own French dialects (at least to the ear of the native Parisian). But this observation from a witness to this attack at least raises an element of doubt as to just how homegrown it truly was.

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John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023
David Strom 6:41 PM on September 21, 2023