Charlie Hebdo artist seized by gunmen recalls sheer terror

A man wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus looks on a painting by French street artist Christian Guemy, a.k.a. 'C215' in Paris Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in tribute to the members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo attack by jihadist gunmen in January 2015. Thirteen men and a woman go on trial Wednesday over the 2015 attacks against a satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris that marked the beginning of a wave of violence by the Islamic State group in Europe. Seventeen people and all three gunmen died during the three days of attacks in January 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PARIS – The Charlie Hebdo caricaturist who was forced at gunpoint to open the satirical newspaper’s door to two al-Qaida extremists described on Tuesday the moments of sheer terror from the attack in January 2015, and the feelings of guilt and powerlessness she endured long afterward.

Corinne Rey had tears in her eyes but her voice was clear as she testified at the trial of 14 people accused of helping three men plot the Jan. 7-9, 2015, attacks in Paris. Seventeen people, including 12 in and around Charlie Hebdo's offices, four at a kosher supermarket and a policewoman, were killed. All three attackers were killed in subsequent police raids.

Rey had left the weekly editorial meeting a little early to go downstairs for a smoke when the gunmen came in the door, calling her by her pen name, Coco, and ordering her to take them to the Charlie Hebdo offices. She walked upstairs between the two men armed with assault rifles.

Only at the moment when Rey described leading them accidentally to the wrong floor of the building did she falter, crouching down in the courtroom and holding her arms over her head in a replay of her reaction as the gunmen realized her mistake.

Saïd and Chérif Kouachi targeted Charlie Hebdo because they believed the newspaper blasphemed Islam by publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. They opened fire on the group seated around the offices as soon as they entered, but told Rey they were sparing her life as a woman.

“This is something I will live with the rest of my life. I felt so powerless, felt so guilty,” she said.

Now, she said, “I expect justice to be done here. It is the law of men that rules, and not the law of God, as the terrorists would have it.”

The day the trial opened, last week, Charlie Hebdo reprinted the caricatures.