Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch claimed responsibility Wednesday for the deadly assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, raising fears about the foreign training and financing of terror plots by self-directed European jihadists.
One of the group’s top commanders, Nasr al-Ansi, said in a video that the assault was revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s crude and obscene caricatures of the prophet Mohammad, considered blasphemous by many Muslims. In total, 17 people died in and around Paris during three days of bloodshed, including 12 people in the attack on the magazine's office. Charlie Hebdo's new issue went on sale Wednesday in France.
Mr. Ansi took responsibility for the attack in an 11-minute video posted on YouTube and promoted on the group’s Twitter account, The Associated Press reports. He said Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the branch in Yemen is known, "chose the target, laid out the plan and financed the operation" against Charlie Hebdo.
Ansi called the two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, “heroes” for carrying out the attack in “revenge for the prophet.” French security forces shot and killed both brothers – as well as another Islamic extremist who killed four French Jews in a kosher grocery store – on Friday.
"Congratulations to you, the Nation of Islam, for this revenge that has soothed our pain," Ansi said. "Congratulations to you for these brave men who blew off the dust of disgrace and lit the torch of glory in the darkness of defeat and agony." He said France belonged to the "party of Satan" and warned of more "tragedies and terror.”
The New York Times reports that the video was accompanied by a print statement sent to reporters. The statement claims the attack on Charlie Hebdo was ordered by Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s successor. An English version of it includes an image of the Eiffel Tower dissolving into a wisp of smoke.
The Times reports that “the attacks appear to reflect what analysts have described as an evolution in Qaeda tactics and logistics.”
Because of heightened surveillance, operatives are trained and assigned general targets, but details on how to carry out the operation are no longer micromanaged by the organization.
The looser command structure reduces communication, and thus reduces the chance of intercepts by intelligence and law enforcement agencies ...
The statement referred to “heroes of lone jihad,” an apparent reference to militants acting in small groups or alone, such as with the attacks in France, which has been a growing concern among European counterterrorism authorities.
American intelligence officials have said that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen for training in 2011. His brother, Cherif, also went there in recent years, according to French authorities. But details of their trips remain unclear.
Al Qaeda's statement said the group was not responsible for the actions of the third gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman and the four grocery store hostages last week. While Mr. Coulibaly appeared to be friends with the Kouachi brothers, he said in a video released after his death that he was a supporter of the self-described Islamic State, which has emerged as a rival to Al Qaeda in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo defiantly published a cartoon on its cover of the prophet Muhammad weeping while holding a sign saying "I am Charlie.” Paris newsstands ran out of copies minutes after opening, The Washington Post reports.