The Charlie Hebdo cartoonist who was forced at gunpoint to open the satirical newspaper’s door to two al Qaida extremists has described the moments of sheer terror during the 2015 attack in France.
Corinne Rey, 38, had tears in her eyes but her voice was clear as she gave evidence at the trial of 13 men and one woman accused of helping three men plot the attacks on January 7-9 2015 in Paris.
Seventeen people, including 12 in and around Charlie Hebdo’s offices, eight of whom were Rey’s colleagues, were killed. On 9 January, another four at a kosher supermarket and a policewoman were murdered. All three attackers were killed in subsequent police raids.
Today, Ms Rey 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.’
Ms Rey had left the weekly editorial meeting a little early to go downstairs for a cigarette 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.
Corinne Rey, 38m who appeared as a witness today, leaves the Paris’ courthouse after a hearing of the trial of 14 suspected accomplices in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher jihadist killings
This court sketch made last week at the Paris courthouse shows the fourteen accused and their lawyers at the opening of the trial of the accomplices in Charlie Hebdo jihadist killings in 2015
Police and emergency vehicles at the scene after the gun rampage at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in 2015 which left 12 people dead
‘I had a sense of dread,’ she said, her voice shaking with emotion, recalling as she walked upstairs between the two men armed with assault rifles.
‘I was in distress, I could not think anymore,’ she told the trial. ‘I knew it was a Kalashnikov.’
‘I was devastated, as if dispossessed of myself, I could no longer do anything. I moved towards the code keypad and I typed it in,’ she recalled. ‘I felt that the terrorists were approaching their goal, I felt them growing excited next to me.’
Only at the moment when Ms Rey described leading them accidentally to the wrong floor of the building did she falter, crouching down and holding her arms over her head in a replay of her reaction as the gunmen realised her mistake.
Said and Cherif Kouachi targeted Charlie Hebdo because they believed the newspaper blasphemed Islam by publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
They opened fire on the group seated around the offices as soon as they entered, but told Ms Rey they were sparing her life as a woman.
Entering the offices, the attackers shot at Simon Fieschi, the administrator of the weekly’s website. Rey said she ran to hide under a desk.
Pictured: Two masked gunmen brandish Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers during the 2015 killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris
The Kouachi brothers, Cherif (left) and Said (right), entered Charlie Hebdo’s premises in Paris and killed 10 people in under two minutes
But after killing 10 people inside the office, the attackers left, leaving behind a vision of ‘horror.’
‘I saw the legs of Cabu. Wolinski was not moving. I saw Charb – the side of his face was extremely pale. Riss was wounded and he told me, ‘Coco, don’t worry’.’
Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, 76, Georges Wolinski, 80, and Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, 47, were among France’s most celebrated cartoonists. All lost their lives in the massacre.
Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, was shot and wounded but survived. He is now Charlie Hebdo’s director.
‘This is the talent that was killed that day, they were models for me,’ Rey said. ‘They were extremely kind people, who had a talent for being funny … It’s not easy to be funny, but they were able to do it very well.’
Five years later, Rey said she still struggled with the memories of the attacks as well as sensations of impotence and even guilt.
A message of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo – containing the popular slogan ‘je suis Charlie’ (meaning ‘I am Charlie’) – is laid out in Paris after the attack in 2015
‘It took me a long time to understand that I am not the guilty one. The only culprits are the Islamist terrorists. The Kouachis and those who helped them,’ she told the court.
‘This is something I will live with the rest of my life. I felt so powerless, felt so guilty,’ she said.
The trial, which began on September 2, is expected to continue until November, reopening one of the post painful chapters in France’s history even if those on trial are only suspected accomplices of the attackers, who were killed by police in the aftermath of the massacre.
Defiant as ever, Charlie Hebdo last week republished cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had sparked anger across the Islamic world, drawing new condemnation from states including Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.