How did the Charlie Hebdo Terrorists Plan Their Rampage?

french_police_charlie_hebdo_dunphy_1-12-15-1 Image from Google Earth.


In conducting this mental exercise I used Google Earth to familiarize myself with the area, first getting an aerial view of the neighborhood before zooming in to street view for a look at the exterior of the building that housed Charlie Hebdo.  And when I saw that street view I saw something that explained a great deal about what had occurred.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an issue in which Mohammed was said to be the guest editor.  This was followed, one day later, by the firebombing of the magazine’s office, presumably by adherents of the Religion of Peace offended at some of the editorial decisions (disagreements about comma placement, I suppose).  Since that time, the office has been guarded by police officers, two of whom are visible in the images captured by the Google-mobile in August 2014 as it drove down Rue Nicolas Appert and Allee Verte, at the corner of which streets the Charlie Hebdo offices are located.  In the pictures, the officers are standing next to a parked police car of the same type we saw riddled with bullets last week.  Both officers are armed with pistols, but there is no sign of any rifles, shotguns, or other hardware so often decried these days as evidence of an overly “militarized” police force.

We should assume that the brothers Kouachi conducted reconnaissance on their target prior to the attack, and that the casual police posture as depicted in the Google images was in evidence when they did so.  So take note: the presence of two armed police officers was insufficient to deter the killers from embarking on their mission.  They saw the target as lightly defended, as it tragically turned out to be.

But now the questions: We know that two officers were killed in the attack, one inside the building, the other shot in the head after falling wounded to the sidewalk a block away.  Were there other officers posted in front of the building at the time of the attack?  If officers were supposed to be there but were not, why weren’t they?  And if they were there, what did they do?  How is it that the killers were able to arrive at the location and alight from a car dressed and equipped as they were without being seen and engaged with by the officers assigned to guard the place?

I can attest that there is no more boring of an assignment in police work than being stuck at a fixed post for eight or ten straight hours.  It is difficult to maintain a high level of vigilance for a sustained period, which is why officers in such assignments should be rotated frequently and given opportunities to rest.  And they should be armed appropriately to meet the anticipated threat regardless of giving offense to those who get the vapors at the sight of guns.

The war goes on.  The next attack is coming.  Will we be ready for it?

Related: "French police chief committed suicide after Charlie Hebdo attack," the London Telegraph reported on Monday. "Limoges deputy director of regional judicial police committed suicide hours after being tasked with investigating the family of one of the Charlie Hebdo victims."