Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility for Charlie Hebdo attack


One of several images released by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while claiming credit for the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris, France.

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.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Bill O'Rights says:

    How long is it going to take for people to understand that militant jihadist groups are drug cartels?
    Don’t allow the ravages of academic bias and Russian disinformation to fixate your gaze solely on Saudi Arabia, because most of the blame lies, um, right next door.
    People often speak of the so-called “19 Saudi hijackers” on 9/11. Are they quite certain about that?
    Don’t they mean 1 Saudi and 18+/- Yemeni AQ ex-pats with Saudi passports?
    It is well known by area experts that Al Qaeda in Yemen is really just a terrorist arm of Dawood Ibrihim’s “D-Company”. It is further understood that D-Company has the infrastructure that the Qataris lack, hence their symbiotic partnership–distribution network and terrorist network, wrapped all into one. Add to that Qatar Airways’ ability to operate with virtual diplomatic immunity.
    How many diplomatic bags can you cram into the cargo hold of a Boeing 787?
    And why does no one question the existence of a national airline the size of Qatar Airways, for a nation with 300,000 citizens?
    It takes very little digging to see just how deeply tied Qatar is to D-Company. Dawood even lived in Qatar, under the protection of the Qatari government–not much different than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who lived in Doha before, during and after 9/11, on the Qatari government payroll, in fact.
    But the ideologues who are in bed with the Qataris simply assume that since the Muslim Brotherhood is an Arab movement, they could not POSSIBLY have such strength in Pakistan and India, even though Zia was not only a member of the Muslim Brotherhood…but Pakistan was also the very first Islamic republic in the world.
    The center of gravity for the Muslim Brotherhood is in Pakistan as well as in Doha.

  • ER says:

    finally some responsible reporting (compared to other outlets and pundits), I commend you

  • Matt says:

    US operations against AQAP have left the group a shell of its former self. It has gone from having one of the key bomb makers and international terror strikes on airlines, to having to take credit and lie about their involvement in attacks.

  • Stephanie says:

    Saw a clip of this on Al-Jazeera. I had initially assumed that it was a random lone wolf inspired by the internet; but that this is coming supposedly from up top I find significantly more disturbing for some reason.

  • James says:

    So now Twitter has gotten into the business of allowing its servers to act as relays to promote acts of international terrorism.
    I sure hope the countries affected pass laws to make them pay and be held financially liable to the victims and their families for this.

  • Arjuna says:

    Hmm, so AQAP senior leadership claim this attack, and both the brothers claim they were killing on behalf of Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) and at least one travelled to Yemen for training, but the Administration and its private sector apologists (Bergen, Fishman, Mudd, et al.) want us to believe this was a more of a lone-wolf thing than a long-planned operation. Not at all true.
    This was Core AQ striking the West at a time and place we could not defend even though it was a Priority 1A soft target. French intel and domestic security have much to answer for. 500 calls between WAGs of jihadis and the pros never caught a whiff of the plot or its evolution from one led and executed by AQAP to a new, more dangerous hybrid of an AQAP attack with a Daesh assist? That’s just terrible police work.
    Target was identified twice in AQAP’s official rag, Inspire. AQAP gave the broke losers twenty grand three years ago (much of which must have been spent on tools) and then Coulibaly topped them up w some more Daesh cash closer to the day (that sure was some fancy ammo on their Twitter feed). The jihadis were friends, and I see no cooperation at the top of the respective organizations, but this is still a massive intel failure.
    Stop apologizing and get on the ball, people. Inspire is critical and this enemy acts methodically, says what they are going to do, and does what they say they are going to do (unless killed first). What does this Paris attack tell us about the Stage of Weapons of Mass Destruction which Inspire also references? Fact or fiction? Hoping for the best and trashtalking is not a strategy for victory.

  • Arjuna says:

    Matt, are you sure Ibrahim Al Asiri is dead? What do you think the size of the AQAP contribution to the Khorasan Group is? I reckon big. They are nerve center number two for global jihad after Pakistan.
    AQAP are responsible for training dozens of terrorists, building the best bombs, writing the most devilish English-language propaganda, etc. etc. and now financing and aiming those frogs.
    They are in control of significant chunks of Yemen after the recent fight w the Houthi tribes, if I understand correctly. Far from a spent force.
    Getting Awlaki was great, but we need to do more.


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