Despite the frigid cold, over 200 people gathered in Manhattan’s Union Square Wednesday evening in solidarity with the victims of a terror attack that took place earlier in the day, leaving 12 dead at the Paris offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
An estimated 200-400 people stood together in near silence at first, braving temperatures that dipped into the teens, holding signs that read “Je suis Charlie” – a phrase that translates to “I am Charlie” and has become the rallying cry of those showing support for the attack’s victims. Eventually, the crowd erupted in song, including the French national anthem.
Attendees included French nationals, Americans and citizens of other countries who repeatedly chanted “We are Charlie! Nous sommes Charlie!,” “We are not afraid!,” and “We are free and proud of it!” Police presence was minimal.
Eilham Zrida, a New Yorker of French and Moroccan descent who was raised Muslim, said “I could not be more upset and saddened by the events today. They have touched the core, the heart of the French Republic. Today I am a human, I am French, I am Muslim … but I am disgusted. Today should not have happened. But hopefully it will allow for a … national and international discussion.”
Another attendee, Mok Auger, told msnbc he was worried because his cousin was in Paris, just a hundred yards away from the crime scene, and was told by police to remain on lockdown for almost six hours. ”We are all here today to support friends and support journalism, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression,” Auger said.
Jenny Rostami, an American, attended the rally with her fiance Victor Desseaux, who is French. Rostami told msnbc she attended the rally in Union Square because as an American, any attack on free speech matters to her. Desseaux said that his family back home in France was still stunned.
Earlier Wednesday, as night fell on Paris, marchers flooded the French capital city’s streets, many carrying pens as a sign of unity with the journalists whose murder is widely considered an affront to a core democratic value: freedom of the press.
Two masked gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault weapons stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo Wednesday morning, killing a dozen people. They yelled “Allahu Akbar” — or “God is great” —before fleeing to a black Citroen parked outside, according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.
Photo Essay: The world mourns after Charlie Hebdo attack
French police had identified three suspects as brothers Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi – both French males in their 30s – and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, according to NBC News. Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges related to fighting in Iraq and sentenced to a year and a half in prison.
Of the 12 dead, the 10 killed in the production office included one police officer, one guest, and eight journalists, Molins said at a press conference on Wednesday. In addition, one maintenance personnel and another officer, who engaged the group as they fled, were killed. Eleven others were wounded, four of whom remain in critical condition.
French President Francois Hollande, who called the shootings a “terrorist attack,” said that Thursday would be a national day of mourning in the country and that there would be a moment of silence at noon local time.
According to a written statement issued by the mayor’s office, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo Wednesday morning “to offer his condolences and to express New York City’s unwavering support for the people of Paris in the aftermath of the terror attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine. Both leaders agreed that cities must be aggressive in fighting terrorism, confront the challenge of extremism with determination, and refuse to be intimidated or allow cowardly violent attacks to undermine free speech.”