TV Stations Release Recordings Of Killers; Charlie Hebdo Attack Marks Terror Change


January 9, 2015

TV Stations Release Recordings Of Killers

Richard Milne in Paris

The voices sound calm, but the effect is chilling. One of the remarkable aspects of the French terrorist crisis this week is that local TV channels have released recordings of their journalist talking to two of the killers shortly before they themselves were killed by special forces on Friday. They offer the most immediate insight into the killers’ states of mind and their attempts to justify the 17 murders they committed.

The words of Cherif Kouachi — one of the brothers behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks that killed 12 — and Amedy Coulibaly — the killer of four Jews in a kosher supermarket and, in an earlier incident, a police officer — are sometimes rambling or evasive. It is unclear why they chose to speak to the media while they were under siege from police.

Equally, there are contradictions: Coulibaly claimed they planned the attacks together but whereas he reportedly said he was part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Kouachi claimed links to al-Qaeda in Yemen.

The first call came when BFMTV, a French television channel, rang the printing works on Friday morning where the Kouachi brothers were holed up just outside Paris to try to speak to witnesses. Instead, BFMTV said Cherif answered.

After learning they were recording the call, he began: “We’re just telling you that we are the defenders of the prophet, and I was sent, me Cherif Kouachi, by al-Qaeda in Yemen. I went there, and was financed by Sheikh Anwar Al-Alwaki.” Al-Alwaki was a US-Yemeni imam with links to al-Qaeda who was killed in 2011.

The journalist pressed him about whether it was just him and his brother, and about whether they had people helping them. “That’s not your problem,” Kouachi replied.

Asked if he planned to kill again, Kouachi insisted that the brothers had not killed any civilians in the two days they had been on the run since the Charlie Hebdo killings.

“We’re not killers, us. We are defenders of the prophet. We don’t kill women, we don’t kill anyone. We defend the prophet. If someone offends the prophet, then there’s no problem: we can kill him. But we don’t kill women. We’re not like you. It’s you who killed Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. It’s you, it isn’t us. We have a code of honor in Islam,” he said in his longest answer.

The journalist replies Kouachi: “But you’ve been avenged: you killed 12 people.” Kouachi ended the conversation by saying: “Because we got revenge. You said it right: we got revenge, exactly.”

Eight journalists, a visiting economist, a concierge and two police officers died in Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo.

BFMTV was then contacted on Friday afternoon by Coulibaly, two hours before he was shot dead by police in the supermarket.

He told the journalist that he had coordinated his actions with the Kouachi brothers. But asked if he was still in contact, he replied: “No . . . We just synchronized for the beginning. They began with Charlie Hebdo, and I began with the police officers.”

The TV channel reported him saying he chose the kosher supermarket to target Jews. He said he did not belong to al-Qaeda but Daesh, the French name for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Another recording of Coulibaly, far more rambling, was released by TV channel RTL on Saturday. RTL said it had called the supermarket on Friday and that somebody picked up but then did not replace the phone properly, whether deliberately or not.

In the faint recording, Coulibaly can be heard saying: “Me, I was born in France. If they [Muslims] weren’t attacked elsewhere, I wouldn’t be here.”

In rapid but broken French, he evoked Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the French military intervention in Mali and says there should be an end to “attacking Islamic countries . . . taking veils off our women . . . putting our brothers in prison.”

He ended by evoking Osama bin Laden, quoting him saying: “You are never going to taste peace.”

January 9, 2015

Jihad cell now focus for police

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany in Paris

A decade ago, Chérif Kouachi’s jihad training field was not a camp in the Syrian desert, but a hilly park in northeastern Paris, where a few jogging sessions were organized.

The Buttes Chaumont park in the capital’s 19th arrondissement, a diverse immigrant area that was rapidly gentrified by young professionals with families, gave its name to the somewhat amateurish cell that sent a dozen French volunteers to fight in Iraq alongside al-Qaeda, and nurtured the jihadist debut of at least two of the suspected killers linked to the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Police thought they had dismantled the network in 2005. They caught Chérif Kouachi as he was about to fly to Damascus on his way to Iraq with another would-be fighter. But 10 years later, French authorities are beginning to realize that the cell may have remained active in some way and that a series of attacks over three days that stunned France and the world were perhaps the work of a terrorist network.

Amédy Coulibaly, also a former member of the Buttes Chaumont network, was named by the police as one of two suspects in connection with the killing of a policewoman in Montrouge, southwestern Paris, on Thursday, a day after the assault against the French satirical publication in which 12 people were shot dead.

On Friday evening Coulibaly was shot dead by the police after taking hostages in a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris, according to a source close to the police.

The 32-year old man of African descent knew Kouachi: Like the Charlie Hebdo suspected killer, he was arrested in 2010 for plotting the escape of Smaïn Aït Ali Belkacem, a jailed terrorist involved in the 1995 attacks in the Musée d’Orsay underground station, which left 30 people wounded.

“They are friends who have stayed in touch, it’s as simple as that,” Jean-Charles Brisard, a consultant on global terrorism, said. “They’ve known each other for more than 10 years, they were part of the same group.”

While Kouachi walked free from custody, Coulibaly, was sent to jail for five years. That was the most serious sentence in a long list of prior convictions for crimes ranging from armed robberies to drug dealing, according to details provided by Libération.

Like Said Kouachi, Chérif’s older brother also linked to the Charlie Hebdo killings, he may have travelled to Yemen, according to the French daily newspaper.

Back then, the Buttes Chaumont cell was no sophisticated affair, said Mr Brisard.

“It was a bunch of buddies from the same neighbourhood,” he added. “The network was very basic.”

Its members were mostly troubled youngsters in their twenties, fans of rap music and smoking pot. Chérif Kouachi took several jobs delivering pizzas and as a fishmonger.

In 2009 Coulibaly was among a group of young people from the suburbs invited to the Elysée palace to meet then president Nicolas Sarkozy to talk about youth employment. He was asked to “bring back autographs and pictures for the family,” Le Parisien newspaper quoted him at the time as saying.
But Farid Benyettou, a janitor at the nearby Addawa mosque and self-proclaimed Islamist preacher, decided to turn the thugs into jihadis.

Mr Benyettou, of Algerian origin and also in his twenties then, organised the funnelling of the volunteers to Iraq. He assuaged their fears by teaching them that it was “written in scriptures that is good to die as a martyr,” Chérif Kouachi said during questioning, according to a France 3 documentary.

The Buttes Chaumont leader was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Christophe Grignard, his lawyer then, said he has had no contact with his client since the trial.

While in prison, Chérif Kouachi met another, possibly more dangerous, spiritual guide: Djamel Beghal, jailed for plotting a terrorist attack against the US embassy in Paris in 2001 who after serving his term went to live in Cantal, a rural region in the center of France.

In 2010, police then established a connection between Mr Beghal and Coulibaly, who admitted to making regular trips to Cantal to see the convicted terrorist.

The French police will no doubt now be trying to track down the other members of the Buttes-Chaumont network including volunteers sent to Iraq a decade ago.

January 9, 2015

Charlie Hebdo Attack Marks Terror Change

Sam Jones, Defense and Security Editor

For western security chiefs, one thing is already clear from the brutal slaying of 12 journalists and police in Paris this week and the chaotic ensuing manhunt; in its preparation and execution; and in the profiles of the jihadis who perpetrated it, the Charlie Hebdo attack marks something new.

The terror incident is a vivid illustration of what the head of Britain’s domestic security service, MI5, on Thursday warned was a threat from terrorism that was rapidly growing in complexity.

“There are huge issues being raised [by Charlie Hebdo] across the counter-terrorism spectrum,” says Patrick Skinner, a former CIA counter terrorism expert who now works for the Soufan Group. “Some that challenge doctrine and tactics we’ve increasingly relied on and that are proving incomplete at the least and quite likely falsely reassuring.”

With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, terror analysts had settled on a broad formula for likely future attacks: while the old al-Qaeda network was still focused on “spectacular” but difficult plots such as those aimed at airliners, Isis was likely to spawn lower-key, more amateurish attacks – using social media and diffuse but effective digital messaging to target and radicalize vulnerable individuals already in the west who did not necessarily have prior physical connection to the group.

The Charlie Hebdo killings have, in part, overturned this narrative. The murderous activities of the Paris gunmen have the hallmarks of both al-Qaeda and Isis’s approach: carefully plotted, professionally executed and spectacular, but at the same time, requiring scant resources and carried out by a very small group of individuals.

As such, the fear is that they point to a new, more carefully calibrated hybrid terror threat. And one that may not be traceable to a single source or initiated by a clear chain of command.

Whether the attack is a one-off, reflecting the peculiar circumstances of the Kouachi brothers who carried it out and the circles they moved in, or signals a new trend is unclear.

Western intelligence officials are in little doubt that the brothers have longstanding links with al-Qaeda, which the brothers themselves acknowledged in a television interview with BFMTV on Friday afternoon. In their mid-30s, both were of a generation for whom Osama bin Laden, rather than Isis, was the voice of global jihad. Another was their choice of victim: they killed cartoonists they accused of blasphemy and policemen. They did not kill at random, as Isis operatives would.

One intelligence official told the Financial Times he had “high confidence” that Said Kouachi in particular had links to al-Qaeda’s most virulent offshoot, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), with whom he trained in Yemen in 2011. And anyone who has trained with AQAP, he said, was unlikely to have completely lost contact with them.

But that does not mean AQAP necessarily instigated the plot – or is planning more like it.

“It would not be a surprise if these people have been involved with different jihadi groups for a long time but are not operating on anyone’s behalf,” said one former US counter terrorism official.

US intelligence has already signalled that AQAP has been active in Syria, trying to develop ties with the large number of Western fighters there through what Washington has dubbed the “Khorasan” cell.

These efforts, say analysts, are intended to give AQAP precisely the kind of attack capabilities the Paris shootings demonstrate.

“We shouldn’t forget that Inspire magazine [al-Qaeda’s English language propaganda publication] is produced in Yemen,” says Nigel Inkster, former deputy head of Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6, and now director of transnational threats at the think-tank IISS. “And it was Inspire that is the origin of what has been called Nike terrorism: the ‘Just do It’ approach.”

Regardless of whether it directed or simply gave inspiration to the most successful Islamist plot in Europe in nearly a decade, Mr Inkster notes, al-Qaeda, so-recently “put in the shade” by the rise of Isis, has every reason to try and do more of the same.

Additional reporting by Geoff Dyer

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