Who was Ali Hassan, the perpetrator of the machete attack on two people near the former headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and what were the motives that led him to commit this bloody attack?
Ali Hassan was only 15 years old when he left Pakistan for Europe, following the path of his older brother and many other young men from his village who dreamed of a better life.
Nearly three years after leaving Pakistan, Hassan was arrested and thrown into a Paris prison after attacking and seriously wounding two people using a machete.
Before the attack on September 25, the perpetrator announced in a video that he was seeking revenge after the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo published cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad.
Little is known about Hassan’s life span in France, and information about his age has been conflicting. The Associated Press has obtained his official identity documents in Pakistan which confirmed that he is 18 years old this year.
The French authorities are investigating the September 25 stabbing incident, describing it as an extremist Islamist attack. This stabbing was an extension of the dangerous armed attack in France in January 2015 against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the killing of 12 of its employees at the hands of gunmen claiming to be affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Harsh penalties in Pakistan for insulting the Islamic religion
So far, there are no indications of Hassan’s association with any terrorist group. However, some indications suggest that the anger of a teenager who lives far from his homeland in a country differs greatly from what he knew and grew up with, which may be the reason for his behavior, especially since customs in Pakistan impose harsh sentences on those who commit crimes of insulting the foundations and constants of the Islamic religion.
Hassan’s journey to Europe began in his rural village, Kotli Qadi, in Punjab province. The small village sits down a narrow, winding dirt road that winds through vast agricultural fields.
The little concrete houses are clinging together, and their worn-out mud-brick walls do not protect from the scorching afternoon sun. In an interview with the Associated Press, the village’s youth, including Hassan’s friends, admitted that they dreamed of arriving in Europe to live in prosperity and well-being. At least 18 young men from the village have migrated outside the country in recent years. Meanwhile, they called Hassan the hero for carrying out the attack.
In the area where the village of Kotli Qazi is located, a hard-line political party known as the Labbaik Pakistan Movement wields strong influence. Almost his only agenda is to support the harsh laws against insulting Islam, which calls for the death penalty against those who insult Islam.
Just a few months after Hassan arrived in France, protesters supported by the Pakistan Labbaik party gathered and blocked roads in the region and other parts of Pakistan in November 2018 to express their anger over the release of a young Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for insulting Islam.
Speaking about Hassan, his friend Muhammad Ikram asserts, “He went to France because the conditions of life there are much better compared to other countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Young people from our region want to live in Europe.” But he added, “If all of our friends were in his place, they would do the same if they saw anything offensive to the Prophet.”
Residents of Kotli Qazi village in Pakistan describe the perpetrator as a hero
Long-eight-year-old Aminah, Ali’s neighbor, remembers Hassan, describing him as a good boy. “He never went looking for harm like some of these other guys. No, he just wanted to study,” she says. “Religiously, he did the right thing, you might not agree, but he did the right thing,” she continues as she sits on a traditional bed woven with ropes in a house she shares with many family members.
Hassan’s neighbors in the village and the owners of nearby shops revealed that the Pakistani security services told them not to talk about Hassan or the Paris attack. Many of them expressed concern about the negative image that this bloody incident gave to their small village.
Hassan Arshad Mahmoud’s father stopped speaking to reporters knocking on his door. Police and Pakistani intelligence warned him not to speak to the international press after he publicly defended his son’s actions.
In her analysis of this phenomenon, Shuja Nawaz, writer and political and security analyst at the Atlantic Council in Washington emphasized that the influx of young migrants from countries such as Pakistan to Europe leads to a clash of two factors. “First, conditions in original countries like Pakistan, which have become more Islamized and anti-Western through the influence of the mullahs and populist governments, while their education systems are collapsing. Second, in Western countries where immigrants end up legally or illegally, there is a separation of Muslim immigrants who end up immigrants,” she added. They turn to religion as a defense mechanism. ”
Official identification documents seen by the AP confirmed that Hassan was born on August 10, 2002, the second youngest of his nine siblings. His older brother Bilal, 32, lives in Italy and was the first of the siblings to travel to Europe. Hassan’s younger brother Ali Murtaza, 16, immigrated to France and was arrested with Hassan and later released.
In the village of Kotli Qazi in Pakistan from which Ali Hassan hails, Ikram, a friend of the perpetrator of the Paris attack, talks about his friend’s trip from Pakistan to Paris and says, “The“ illegal ”route to Europe can be very dangerous, but a large majority of his village’s residents, like Hassan, who is between the ages of 15 and 16, chose this adventure because minors are not often deported. ”
The perpetrator is 18 years old and immigrated to France in search of a better life
Hassan embarked on a journey to France in early 2018, via Iran, Turkey, and Italy, and finally arrived in France in August 2018. He was registered as an unaccompanied minor and was initially placed in a residence in the Sergi suburb of Paris, where he received government aid granted to minors.
During his settlement in Paris, Hassan moved to the suburb of Banten, which is home to working-class migrants from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Pakistanis. He was living in an apartment with several other Pakistanis in a building that housed a hookah shop and an auto parts shop.
“They were calm, living their lives normally, leaving in the morning for work,” said Ziad Zaid, who runs the auto repair shop. Ziad did not know where Hassan was working, but he said that Pakistanis often find jobs in restaurants.
Hassan was living in Banten when Charlie Hebdo newspaper reprinted the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on September 1. The newspaper justified this with press freedoms on the eve of the start of the first trial of those accused of having committed armed attacks in January 2015 in Paris.
Hassan had an appointment scheduled for September 25 at the headquarters of the provincial administration of the Val d’Oise province to review his residency status, after he reached the age of 18, which means that he is no longer a minor and would have lost his right to reside in France unless he was able to submit an asylum application.
Instead of going to his appointment, Hassan went to the former headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper where he believed the newspaper was still there. Hassan took Sattora out and began attacking those near the building. Hassan attacked and seriously injured two people who turned out to be working for a documentary film company. He was arrested shortly after the assault, near the Bastille Opera, with blood on his forehead.
In their testimony to the investigators, close to the perpetrator said that in recent weeks, Hasan had been watching videos of the leader of the Labbaik Pakistan movement, Khadim Hussain Razavi, in which he denounced the re-publication of cartoons offensive to the Prophet Muhammad, according to the French prosecution.
In a video clip posted on social media before the stabbing crime, Hassan cried and said that the Pakistani militant party had inspired him, “If my voice is emotional, there is a reason for that and let me share it with you: Here in France, caricatures of the Prophet were published, and I will resist it today.”