Charlie Hebdo Shooter Possibly Linked to Cell Tied to Terror Recruitment

Reports are coming in that at least one of the shooters involved in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo where ten journalists and two policemen were murdered, may have long standing jihad ties. According to reports the shooters were allegedly Said and Cherif Kouachi both with French citizenship. A third individual Hamyd Mourad, has also been arrested.  In 2008, a French court sentenced a Cherif Kouachi to 3 years in prison for attempting to travel through Syria to Iraq in order to fight U.S. and Coalition troops:

The men were accused of links to the “19th Arrondissement Network,” named for the Paris district where it was based. The district is a diverse, working-class neighborhood, home to many Muslim families with roots in former French colonies in North Africa.

The network was involved in smuggling individuals to fight alongside Al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq. AQI would eventually become the group led by Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), which declares itself to be the Islamic caliphate under AbuBakr Al-Baghdadi. But it remains unclear if Kouachi and his accomplices were working on behalf of ISIS. During the attack, the gunmen reportedly yelled, “Tell the media that this is al-Qaeda in the Yemen!” This claim would also seem logical, since it was AQAP which issues Inspire magazine, which carried the 2013 death threat against Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stéphane Charbonnier.

Yet another member of the “19th Arrondissement Network”, Boubakeur Hakim, was linked by French and Tunisian intelligence to Ansar al-Sharia in 2013, for his role in the assassinations of Tunisian politicians Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, both of whom were gunned down outside their homes by teams of gunmen. Hakim was also believed to be involved in weapon smuggling from Libya to Tunisia on behalf of Ansar al-Sharia. Belaid supporters would later express a belief that Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, the head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which would form the backbone of the Libyan rebels who overthrow Qaddafi, played a key role in training Ansar Al-Sharia to carry out the attack.  And while Hakim may have been the Ansar Al-Sharia triggerman, the killings were allegedly at the behest of the Tunisian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ennahada party, as the late Middle East Specialist Barry Rubin noted at the time:

“While Tunisia is being run by a coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and two secular parties, the Brotherhood’s power is growing, while Salafist groups are free to intimidate people. The most vocal opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated; indications are that this killing was backed and even organized by the ruling Islamists. [Emphasis added]”

Whether Hakim and Kouachi remained in touch (which is unknown), it’s clear that the 19th Arrondissement Cell apparently graduated serious terrorist operatives undeterred by prison. Food for thought as the Obama Administration continues to release Guantanamo detainees.

If Cherif Kouachi is indeed the same one linked to the “19th Arrondissement” Cell, more than identifying a particular responsible terror group as the responsible party, it informs us that what unifies jihadists is their motivation. Members of a given cell may head off in different directions and joint new organizations, but the requirement to wage jihad to impose Islamic law, remains the same regardless. In understanding that, the attacker’s cry, “we have avenged the prophet!” may be more notable than any other declaration of responsibility.

About Kyle Shideler

Kyle Shideler is the Director of the Threat Information Office (TIO) at the Center for Security Policy. Kyle works to inject serious research and analysis on the subject of Islamic terrorism and Shariah law into the beltway policy discussion, by challenging false assumptions and providing fully documented resources, primary research and influential talking points to policymakers, journalists, and foreign relations professionals. Kyle has previously served as a Director of Research and Communications, Senior Researcher, and Public Information Officer for several organizations in the field of Middle East and terrorism policy since 2006. He is a contributing author to “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,” and has written for numerous publications as well as briefed legislative aides, intelligence and law enforcement officials, and the general public on the threat posed by Islamist influence and penetration operations.