Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an official branch of al Qaeda’s international organization, has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices last week.
The organization claims responsibility in a speech by Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a senior AQAP official who has worked directly for al Qaeda’s most senior leadership. The title of al Ansi’s speech is “Vengeance for the Messenger of Allah.” Al Ansi’s speech was first translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“We in the Organization of Qa’idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah,” al Ansi says, according to SITE’s translation.
“We clarify to the ummah that the one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation, is the leadership of the organization,” al Ansi says.
Al Ansi goes on to explain that the operation was planned in “compliance” with the “command” of Allah to support his messenger, as well as the “order of our general emir, the generous Sheikh Ayman bin Muhammad al Zawahiri,” and the “will” of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
The “emir of the operation” worked with Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue who was killed in a US drone strike in September 2011. Awlaki “threatens the West both in his life and after his martyrdom,” al Ansi says.
Al Ansi seeks to clarify the details of the operation. He says that the “blessed battle was carried out by two heroes of Islam,” Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers who assaulted Charlie Hebdo.
It was a “tawfeeq” (good fortune or blessing) from Allah that the Kouachi brothers’ “operation coincided with the operation of Mujahid brother Ahmed Coulibaly.” Al Ansi asks Allah to accept all three of them as martyrs. In other words, according to al Ansi, Coulibaly’s actions were not part of AQAP’s plan.
Al Ansi’s description of the Kouachi brothers is consistent with other evidence. Cherif Kouachi gave an interview to BMFTV, a CNN affiliate in France, while he was holed up in a printing factory after the attack. “We are just telling you that we are the defenders of Prophet Mohammed,” Kouachi said. “I was sent, me, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen. I went there and Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki financed my trip.”
“Al Qaeda in Yemen” is a reference to AQAP. And just like al Ansi, Cherif Kouachi specifically mentioned Awlaki in connection with attack. One or both of the brothers may have met directly with Awlaki in Yemen. Numerous other reports say that one or both brothers received training and financing from AQAP. [See LWJ report, Paris terrorist reportedly claimed ties to Anwar al Awlaki, AQAP.]
Al Ansi’s speech is generally consistent with what is known about Ahmed Coulibaly, who did not participate in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but separately assaulted a kosher market and killed a French policewoman.
In his own interview with BMFTV, Ahmed Coulibaly said he was a member of the Islamic State, al Qaeda’s jihadist rival. And in a video that was posted online after Coulibaly’s death, the jihadist pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Unlike the Kouachi brothers, Coulibaly did not claim any ties to AQAP. [See LWJ report, Video shows terrorist responsible for Paris market attack pledging allegiance to Islamic State.]
Al Ansi points out that AQAP had specifically threatened Charlie Hebdo and its editor, Stephane Charbonnier, in the past. The “result of the operation was the killing of a number of the newspaper’s cartoonists, workers and guards,” al Ansi says, according to SITE’s translation. “By the Grace of Allah, one of them was in the ‘Wanted List’ produced by Inspire Magazine with image and name.”
Indeed, the tenth issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine, which was released in early 2013, includes a “Wanted” poster that is headlined, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” One of the men listed is Charbonnier, who was killed by the Kouachi brothers. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda and other jihadists repeatedly threatened French magazine.]