Charlie Hebdo Editor Vows: 'You Cannot Kill Freedom of Speech'

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A senior editor at Charlie Hebdo says she’s living a nightmare that she could never have prepared for despite years of threats against the magazine.

Caroline Fourest, who has contributed to the satirical magazine for years, told NBC News that she and the staff are working through their shock after the attack, and will show the world they will not be silenced.

Charlie Hebdo, which has published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, was threatened long before two gunmen opened fire in its Paris office on Wednesday, leaving 12 people dead in the first volley of three days of terror in France.

The magazine was firebombed in 2011, and some members of its staff, including prominent cartoonists, were under constant police protection. But the precautions anticipated a bomb or an arson attack, Fourest said — not a barrage of bullets in the middle of an editorial meeting.

“Of course we knew the risk that everybody was taking,” she said. “No one would imagine that they could put automatic guns on the heads of people.”

Fourest told NBC News that the editorial staff had been debating cartoons to demonstrate the scope of racism against Muslims in France. That made the attack, an apparent act of revenge for insulting Islam, even harder to believe.

When the staff heard a strange noise, they thought it was “a stupid joke” at first, she said. “And it was very, very real.”

Fourest said that the survivors are “of course” in shock but determined to put out the next issue, scheduled for Wednesday, and to show the world that they are not afraid. Continuing to publish will send the message that while “you can kill our friends, you cannot kill freedom of speech,” she said.

She defended the magazine’s caricatures, saying that they took aim without favoring any religion, and she asked other media to print the very cartoons for which Cherif and Said Kouachi sought revenge. They were killed on Friday in a police raid, as was an accomplice who killed four people at a kosher market.

“Those guys are pathetic. They’re so afraid of some cartoons?” Fourest said. “You can imagine how weak and desperate they are.”

While Fourest said she has nothing to say to the killers, she appeared to take solace in how their plans backfired. A unity rally on Sunday became the largest demonstration in modern French history, and “Je Suis Charlie” has become a rallying cry around the world.

“They try to kill Charlie Hebdo, they make Charlie Hebdo the most famous newspaper in the world,” she said. “How stupid they are.”

Some of the staff who died on Wednesday might even have laughed at the outpouring of support and outrage after the years of threats lobbed at the team for its work, she added.

“I think they would laugh and say, ‘OK, guys, it’s time to wake up. It may be a little late, but you’re welcome.”