‘Charlie Hebdo’ in different type of crisis after attack

Satirical’s survivors are traumatised, threatened and at odds with each other

Twelve people were murdered at Charlie Hebdo's office on January 7th. Eight more, including three jihadist gunmen, would die in the three-day rampage that continues to haunt France. The massacre transformed a relatively unknown satirical weekly on the verge of bankruptcy into France's richest publication and a national – indeed global – symbol of freedom of expression.

Yet 4½ months later, Charlie Hebdo is in crisis. "Everybody there, including me, is gravely wounded by psychological trauma," says Patrice Pelloux, an emergency doctor who writes a column for Charlie Hebdo. Pelloux arrived on the scene with ambulance and rescue workers, and called president François Hollande to inform him what had happened.

Fear and danger

The legacy of fear and danger reaches beyond

Charlie Hebdo


’s temporary offices at


newspaper. Yesterday, teachers demonstrated outside the Marcelin-Berthelot


in the Paris suburb of Saint-Maur-des-Fosses to demand police protection for the school newspaper, which published a special edition in tribute to

Charlie Hebdo

. Louis, the paper’s 17-year-old editor, has received seven letters containing swastikas, bullets and death threats. His parents also received a bullet through the post. Until now, their pleas for protection have been ignored.

Surviving Charlie Hebdo staff live under constant police protection. Two men were questioned by police in mid-May, after they were seen lurking around the home of Laurent Sourrisseau, known as Riss, the cartoonist whose shoulder was shattered by Kalashnikov bullets on January 7th, and who became the post-massacre director of Charlie Hebdo.

The suspects rode past Riss’s home on scooters on consecutive days and were seen taking photographs with smartphones. Both have criminal records, and one is on the “S-list” of suspected radical Islamists. They claimed not to know each other and were released for lack of evidence.

The cartoonist Renald Luzier, known as Luz, did not cite fear as a reason for his resignation, effective in September, from Charlie Hebdo. It was Luz who drew the cover of the famous "green" or "survivors'" edition of Charlie Hebdo, published one week after the attack. That drawing of the prophet Muhammad includes two barely concealed phalluses.

"For me, every week lasts 10 months now," Luz told Libération. "It became too much to carry. There's nobody left to draw. I had to do three out of four covers. Every issue is torture, because the others aren't there anymore. Spending sleepless nights summoning the dead, asking oneself what [the slain cartoonists] Charb, Cabu, Honoré and Tignous would have done, is exhausting."

Luz's book, Catharsis, his diary of the massacre and subsequent weeks, was published this week. A war of words has continued between him and Jeannette Bougrab, who claims to have been the secret companion of Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, the newspaper's assassinated director.

When Bougrab, a former junior minister in the conservative Sarkozy administration, published photographs of herself and Charb in the wake of the massacre, his family officially denied they had a relationship. Bougrab threatened to sue to prove she’d been with the dead cartoonist.

Mediocre usurper

More recently, Bougrab denounced Luz as a “mediocre usurper” and noted that he would have been in the doomed editorial meeting if he hadn’t been in bed with a hangover. Bougrab is about to move to Helsinki, where she will serve as cultural attaché in the French embassy.

Riss, the new director, abandoned attempts to sack reporter Zineb el-Rhazoui when staff protested. Rhazoui, a Franco-Moroccan sociologist and militant anti-Islamist, has received death threats and also lives under police protection. Riss says she refuses to attend staff meetings and fails to meet deadlines.

The “survivors’ issue” sold eight million copies worldwide. The wave of post-massacre sympathy brought 270,000 subscriptions. Newsstand sales have settled to 170,000 weekly, compared to 35,000 before the attack. The paper will reap some €12 million in profits this year. Close to €4.5 million in donations have been received for those wounded in the attack and the families of victims.

But Charlie Hebdo's windfall has also proved problematic. Ownership of the paper is divided between Riss (40 per cent), Charb's family (40 per cent) and financial director Eric Portheault (20 per cent). In March, 15 staff, including Luz, demanded that the paper become a co-operative. Its owners refused.