The scariest thing about the Nice truck attack is the nonchalance of the subsequent media coverage. By July 2016, terrorist attacks in France had become no big deal, thanks to the horrific events of 2015, their Annus horribilis. This is where it started. With the help of riveting survivors’ testimony, Dan Reed documents the campaign of terror step-by-step in Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo, which premieres tomorrow night on HBO.
Evidently, Mohammad was no match for an unruly satirical magazine with a penchant for alienating its own leftwing supporters. To assuage the Prophet’s hurt feelings over a few caricatures, the world’s jihadists put Charlie Hebdo in their crosshairs. Having survived a 2011 firebombing, the staff relocated to more secure, unmarked offices. Unfortunately, they were not secret and secure enough.
Arguably, the Smithsonian Channel’s Paris Terror Attacks does as good a job or better explaining the chain of fateful events. The new stuff Reed brings to the table are eye-witness accounts from the magazine’s neighbors and several of the high-ranking police officers who managed the response. 3 Days puts many of the familiar images of the attack in context, explaining who shot them and from what vantage point. Easily the most compelling interview sequence features television producer Martin Boudot, whose offices were across the hall from the magazine. Instead of warning his neighbors, Boudot called the police and barricaded his door. It is an understandable defensive response, but he now deeply regrets not proactively warning the Charlie Hebdo staff.
While the Kouachi brothers were terrorizing Charlie Hebdo and making their last stand in Dammartin, their former cellmate Amedy Coulibaly commenced the Hypercacher kosher market hostage crisis. Reed largely skips over the Dijon and Nantes vehicular attacks, which were considered wildcat actions, but clearly prefigured the Nice terror truck incident. Thanks to eye witness accounts, 3 Days gives viewers a sense of how ruthlessly cold-blooded Coulibaly was as he went about his lethal business.
The January 2015 terrorist crisis had profoundly tragic consequences, especially for Charlie Hebdo and the Parisian Jewish community, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. It is important that we study the events in question to better prepare for future attacks. Yet, some of the significance of the attacks has largely gone unnoted. The Kouachis and Coulibaly were not just native French born terrorists. The brothers were linked to Al Qaeda’s Yemen division, while Coulibaly professed allegiance to ISIS, yet they were reportedly in communication with each other during their respective attacks and claimed to have coordinated their efforts. The prospect of Al Qaeda and ISIS working together is almost too frightening for counter-terror officials to contemplate, yet perhaps it already happened at a grassroots-cell-to-cell level.