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Charlie Hebdo editor on threats in 2012: "I prefer to die than live like a rat"

The French magazine Charlie Hebdo had faced threats of violence and actual violence for its provocative cartoons of religious figures — including the Prophet Mohammed — for years before Wednesday's shooting attack, which left at least 12 dead.

Stephane Charbonnier, editor-in-chief of the magazine, addressed the threats — and the earlier firebombing of the magazine's offices — in interviews with media outlets in 2012. As he explained to ABC News at the time, standing up to these threats was about standing up for freedom of speech.

"Our job is not to defend freedom of speech, but without freedom of speech we are dead," he said. "I prefer to die than live like a rat."

Charbonnier's words have a special and tragic resonance today: he was among those killed in the attack.

His comments also get to a key point of Charlie Hebdo's work: the point isn't to insult Islam or Muslims in particular; it's to minimize extremists who would attempt to silence or intimidate journalists.

Charlie Hebdo staffer Laurent Leger told BFM-TV in 2012, "The aim is to laugh.… We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept."

Read more: Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack: remembering the victims.

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