Chris Millington in HistoryToday:
On 7 January 2015, armed gunmen killed twelve people in an attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the centre of Paris. French President Francois Hollande immediately condemned the violence as ‘cowardly murder’ and an act of terrorism. Terrorist violence has a long history in France. The term ‘terrorism’ itself was coined in the wake of the 1789 revolution as a term to describe the government’s bloody campaign against counter-revolutionaries. Only during the late 19th century did the label acquire its modern, more negative connotation. At this time anarchists around the world, inspired by their counterparts in Russia, targeted heads of state, whether presidents or monarchs, during the so-called ‘Decade of Regicide’ between 1892 and 1901. US President William McKinley, assassinated in September 1901, was the most high-profile victim of this spasm of violence. Civilians were not spared the anarchists’ attacks. Thus in February 1894, Frenchman Emile Henry tossed a bomb into a plush Parisian restaurant and fled.
As anarchism receded after the First World War a new ideology, fascism, inspired home-grown terrorists in France. In November 1937, the Comité Secret d’Action Révolutionnaire, otherwise known as the Cagoule, was exposed by the French police authorities. The Cagoule had emerged from the extreme right-wing street politics of the decade that had afflicted France as elsewhere in Europe. The Cagoule did not commit indiscriminate attacks against civilians; it assassinated several prominent Italian antifascists who were resident in France in return for arms from Mussolini. Yet its master plan was to overthrow the democratic Third Republic and install a fascist regime in its place. To achieve this goal, Cagoule activists committed several anonymous bombings, notably in Paris, hoping to spread the fear that the communist party had in fact perpetrated the attacks and that social revolution was imminent. Yet the group failed to convince its friends in the army to take pre-emptive action against the left and the authorities uncovered the plot. Political violence continued throughout the so-called ‘Dark Years’ of the Occupation.
Picture: Parisian members of the Cagoule at a party celebrating the terrorist organisation's activities, December 3rd, 1937