On 7 January 2015, between 1125 and 1135 hours two men, Cherif, 32 and Said Kouachi 24, dressed in black clothing and balaclava’s with automatic weapons, alighted from a black Citron and entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed Stephane Charbonnier the magazine’s editor, his police body guard; cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verlhac and Jean Cabut and Bernard Maris with an AK47. The editor was asked for in person.
The two terrorist were heard to shout “we have avenged the Prophet” and “Allah Akbar”. Prior to the shooting the two brothers claimed to have said to a person, “Tell the media that this is Al Qaeda in Yemen.” The police stated that the two men were calm and determined and went directly to the editorial room and that they knew their target. Also as well as those killed in the editorial room there were others including police who died in the attack, in all eight journalists, two policemen a maintenance worker and a visitor died by the two terrorists.
Later, it emerges that the two brothers were on the British and United States no-fly list as they had dealings with terrorism in the past. In the past French Intelligence had the pair on a watch-list, but six months ago removed them as they were deemed a low-risk. The two were French nationals with an Algerian background. The brothers were first thought to have been radicalised after the 2003 Iraq war. The two were originally arrested in 2005 as suspected members of the Buttes Chaumont a gang run by two Imams in northern Paris and named after the district that it drew its recruits from. It was also thought that the two may have been to Syria in 2014. Cherif had been arrested in 2008 after attempting to board an aircraft flying to Damascus with an AK47 Operating Pamphlet in his luggage.
Cherif’s lawyer described him as an apprentice loser, a delivery boy who smoked hashish and delivered pizzas to buy his drugs and being a clueless kid. After a short prison sentence Cherif was linked in 2010 to a plot to free Smain Ait Ali Belkacem who in the past had masterminded the 1995 bombing of the St. Michel metro station in Paris which resulted in the killing of eight people and injuring over a hundred others.
The office of Charlie Hebdo, Boulevard Richard Lenoir, Paris had been attacked in the past. In November 2011 the office was firebombed and their website hacked. In September 2012 the newspaper published a series of satirical cartoons of the Prophet which also coincided with an anti-Islamic film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. There were a number of attacks on US embassies in the Middle East around this time and the security to the newspaper was increased as a result.
The two were eventually cornered on the 9 January 2015 in Dammartin-en-Goele twenty-two miles north of Paris in an industrial estate after taking a hostage. As the two exited the warehouse they were killed by the French Police. Whilst this terrorist attack was ongoing another was occurring elsewhere in Paris.
On 8 January 2015 at approximately 0845 hours as the police searched for the Kouachi brothers in Paris a lone gunman wearing body armour and carrying weapons shot two people in the southern district of Montrouge. A policewoman (Clarissa Jean-Philippe) was killed and a male was injured before the gunman departed.
Earlier on 9 January 2015 an individual claiming to be Coulibaly had told French TV station BFMTV that he was a member of the Islamic State and that he had coordinated the attacks with the Kouachi brothers. There was confirmation that Coulibaly had known one of the brothers and that they had spoken to each other on the telephone on a number of times. It is difficult to know whether that was during the terrorist attacks or prior to. Coulibaly had threatened to murder his hostages if the police attempted to capture the two brothers.
Police launched an assault on the supermarket in Paris killing Coulibaly and rescuing approximately fifteen hostages but four were killed earlier. Coulibaly was killed in the assault whilst allegedly praying. The supermarket was alleged to have been booby-trapped with explosives but failed to detonate. However, there was no confirmation on this from any other open source channels.
Coulibaly had a girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, who had left France early on 2 January 2015 and flew from Paris to Madrid and from there to Istanbul, Turkey. Boumeddiene flew with another male Sabry Belhoucine where they stayed in a hotel for a couple of days. Their relationship is not known. A mobile phone and SIM card was purchased. The pair then flew to Sanliufa, Turkey which is near the Turkish/Syrian border. On 8 January 2015 they crossed the border into Syria.
This may account for a twitter account on 5 January 2015 with the handle of @PaladinofJihad and referred to “Snail-eating people”. Then on 7 January 2015 the call-sign then again tweeted “you heard it hear first. SnailEaters ate lead”. It is the possibility of someone in the Islamic State organisation claimed that they knew of the attack.
How terrorist plan an operation
The attack on the Charlie Habdo offices must have been well planned and conducted in a professional manner, but was probably controlled by others. This attack was not a random one but would have had a chain of events leading up to it. There would have been careful planning and information gathering especially as the attack occurred at the same time as the group were holding an editorial meeting. This would indicate either someone had leaked the time of the meeting, given out the information freely or that the two had an accomplice that may have stalked personnel at the offices to gather information from loose talk.
Once the relevant information had been gathered a careful plan would have been put together. It maybe that it required sanctioning from a higher authority. It is highly unlikely that the two had planned this together as it was a complicated and well planned terrorist operation. Once the go-ahead had been given to the proposal then it would take some time to carry out a reconnaissance of the road system and the location of the offices along with other preparations. Although one report claimed that they heard one of the terrorists shouting at someone “is this number ten” inferring that they had not been there before.
A good knowledge of the area had been gleaned then they would need to know exit routes for their extraction once the operation had been carried out, this would include other routes should one be blocked. Once the reconnaissance had been carried out then a rehearsal would have been conducted in an area which would have been stand alone and would not draw attention especially if weapons were used - the noise factor. According to some reports the two terrorists knew where the editorial meeting was taking place as they walked up to the location which shows intimate knowledge of the inside of the office of the paper.
The other point that would need attention is the logistics. The acquiring of weapons and ammunition not only for the operation but for test firing weapons and training would need to be drawn from a secure source. Criminals may have asked too many questions which would suggest the possibility of a terrorist logistic network in Paris or nearby. The clothing was purchased from a shop but to buy two sets of everything would arouse suspicion so the chances are they were brought at the same store but in different locations. The vehicle would have been highlighted at some point and close by so that they could steal it and use it for the operation before the owner reported it missing or the police circulated the vehicle details.
Finances could also be a problem especially as these terrorist involved in both operations had weapons and ammunition. None of the three were employed with a well paying job, nor were they intelligent enough to have high paid employment. Later it transpired that Coulibaly had a location that had weapons, detonators and cash. The money and weapons probably funded and supplied by Coulibaly but where did he acquire the funds to obtain the weaponry? There must be one or more people who donated the money and a quartermaster who supplied the weapons and ammunition. Coulibaly’s girlfriend flew from Paris to Syria as mentioned earlier which with flights, hotels, meals and phones would take money. Someone or an organisation funded this attack.
The time of the attack so that the exit strategy was not in any rush hour traffic and would hinder the terrorists fleeing. Martyrdom was not expected so near to the operation being carried out which would suggest that rather than stay, fight and die at the hands of the police and military they sought to leave. The martyrdom thought came later after they took a hostage and had nowhere else to go. It was their only option as to have been caught would have meant the operation was not a total success but partial failure.
They had planned to get-away so what was their destination? Possibly their idea was to leave France and Europe and travel abroad eventually to Yemen where they would be hailed as heroes. If they had a backer the chances are that all interest would have lost after the attack. Once the operation had been conducted they had ceased to become of any use other than propaganda and a tool for future recruitment.
One of the points that is difficult to understand is that the two separate shootings were claimed by different groups. The Kouachi brothers were clearly heard on a couple of occasions stating that they were operating on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) whilst Coulibaly was operating on behalf of the Islamic State. The two groups had a fallout early in 2014 and there has been no hint of a reconciliation since. There is a possibility that Coulibaly may have been able to bring on board the two brothers if they laid claim to become members of the IS and fight for them; this may have been the case but once the act was carried out they decided to return to their old alliance of the AQAP.
The future for Europe
During the last few weeks the world has seen terrorist attacks on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan; an attack in Australia where a lone gunman took hostages in Sydney on 15 Dec 14. On 1 Dec 14 the United States issued a warning that an attack was likely on their home soil. A warning from the US that al-Qaeda is attempting to recruit terrorists for lone wolf attacks on an airline. Australian Prime Minister warned of increased chatter in the aftermath of the Sydney seizure.
In France during Dec 14 there were attacks on pedestrians using vehicles deliberately aimed at French citizens, a man who injured a policeman with a knife before being shot. In Sweden on 20 Dec 14 there were two vehicle bombs and in the United Kingdom soldiers who stand sentry duty outside various locations had to be pulled in behind barriers to prevent a Canadian style attack.
Intelligence services are having a great burden placed upon them to stop any type of terrorist attack. On 9 Jan 15 the head of the British security agency MI5 stated that Islamic militants are planning a mass casualty attack on a western target. This statement does not just apply to the UK but other countries in the west and also includes Asia. France stated that they were looking for up to six terrorist cells that maybe operating on mainland France in the aftermath of this atrocity. In Germany the police claim that they have evidence that key European cities could be attacked at any time. It appears that terrorists are in the driving seat and are in control.
The public needs to be brought on side to assist in combating any future terrorist attack. The leading members of Islamic societies also need to assist as they are at the front should an Islamic extremist carry-out an attack. It is no use declaring their abomination after the fact they need to be at the forefront in identifying any suspect. Not to do so fuels hate from far right organisations whose hatred only fuels propaganda and recruitment.
With recent “terrorist success” it appears that they currently have the upper hand. The governments in the west, Australia and the United States need to come up with a strategy to protect their citizens against terrorism from Islamic extremists not only physically but through social websites and in the new war on terrorism in Syria and Iraq. It is time to stop appeasing and to move the conflict in the opposite direction. Only recently (12 Jan 15) reports of the American government Twitter account had been attacked. It seems we are fiddling around in the dark whilst the opposition have a clear and direct strategy.