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London holds sombre vigil to mourn Charlie Hebdo victims

Hundreds gathered in Trafalgar Square to hold up pens and sing songs in memory of the 12 dead in Paris

TextAlex TaylorPhotographyAlex Taylor

A vigil was held in London’s Trafalgar Square last night in memory of the 12 people who lost their lives in the shootings in an alleged terrorist attack at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris.

On Wednesday morning, three men entered the publication’s offices in the French capital with assault rifles and opened fire, leaving 12 dead and a further 11 people injured, with five in critical condition. French president François Hollande described the event as “a terrorist attack of the most extreme barbarity”.

Among the dead were ten of the magazine’s journalists, including four of France’s best-known cartoonists and editor Stephane Charbonnier, affectionately known as ‘Charb’. Two police officers were also killed in the attack.

“I shuddered when I heard the news,” one vigil attendee told Dazed. “I had been speaking to my friend earlier in the day about going into journalism and to hear this was truly terrifying.”

Trafalgar Square did not play host to a raucous vocal demonstration against the gunmen. Rather, hundreds gathered for a sombre opportunity to reflect on those slain for exercising their right to the freedom of speech.

The hushed tone across one of London’s key tourist spots could not have been a more stark contrast to its usual state as scores of people held aloft signs reading ‘Je Suis Charlie’, a reference to the magazine’s title, and pens as a mark of respect.

Observers held up signs as the vigil was observed perfectly. Those who spoke to one another did so in a whisper. The hush broken only by an occasional exclamation from the centre of the crowd and muted singing.

“I work for a magazine,” journalist Olly Gibbs said, “so it was shocking for me to think that this could happen in my office too. It’s an act of sheer stupidity and should never have happened.”

Charlie Hebdo have been the victims of attacks in the past, with previous offices having been destroyed in a petrol bomb attack a day after satirically naming the prophet Muhammed as its new editor-in-chief, with the cover reading “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

After the incident, Charbonnier said: “If we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism, that is annoying.”

France declared yesterday a national day of mourning after the attacks took place, and have received widespread international support with #JeSuisCharlie capturing the imaginations of demonstrators at home and abroad. By 6:15pm yesterday, there were more than 2.1m tweets under the hashtag.

Hannah, a Parisian expat, said: “It’s truly shocking. I struggle to understand how someone can take issue with the magazine as they have satirised everyone. There is no discrimination. They make light of everyone.”

As people filtered in and out of the throng, the one constant was the look of grim resignation on their faces. From children through to the elderly, each seemed to comprehend the gravitas and implications of what this could spell for a country where Islamophobia is a growing problem. France is already seeing increased support for Marine Le Pen’s Front National party, and witnessed a spate of Islamophobic attacks in December.

This morning, there has been a grenade attack on a mosque in the city of Le Mans as well as a policewoman shot in the south of Paris. These are only two of a number of deeply disturbing reports emerging from a country that, just last night, was united under the banner of ‘Je Suis Charlie’.