MS Risk Blog

8 January Update: Charlie Hebdo Shooting

Posted on in France, Terrorism title_rule

8 January – French anti-terrorism police have moved in on an area northeast of Paris after two men wanted for an attack on a satirical newspaper were spotted at a gasoline station in the region. The men, identified as brothers as Cherif and Said Kouachi, aged 32 and 34, were already under watch by security services. The men are are believed responsible for killing 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo weekly, the worst attack in France for decades. Fears have arisen that they could strike again. Two police sources have said that the men were seen armed and driving a Renault Clio at a petrol station in Villers-Cotterets, 40 miles outside of Paris.

On Wednesday, two gunmen with Kalashnikovs exited a black car and forced an employee of the magazine to let them into the building in central Paris. Once inside, witnesses say that the assailants deliberately targeted journalists, killing the publication’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier, as well as killing or wounding a number of cartoonists. One report indicates that the killers asked for people by name. Two policemen were also killed in the attack. The attackers then entered a black getaway car and fled the scene before moving to a stolen car.

On Wednesday night, the youngest shooter, an 18-year-old man, turned himself into police near the Belgian border. A legal source said he was the brother-in-law of one of the main suspects. A total of seven people had been arrested since the attack, mostly acquaintances of the two main suspects. One source said one of the brothers had been identified by his identity card, left in the getaway car.

Security services have feared that nationals drawn into militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq could return to their home countries to launch attacks; however there is no concrete evidence that the two suspects actually fought abroad. Terrorist organisations have repeatedly threatened France with attacks over its military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa. Extremist ire was directed at Charlie Hebdo, which has published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. Militants online repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its mockery. No group has officially claimed credit for today’s attack, although witnesses report that the attackers claimed they were members of al Qaeda. Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who was forced to let the attackers into the building, said that “[t]hey spoke French perfectly; they said they were al Qaeda.” Cédric Le Béchec, another witness, stated that one of the attackers said “Tell the media that this is al Qaeda in the Yemen [AQAP.]”

The professionalism of the attack does suggest that the shooters may have received weapons instructions at a training facility, or are ex-military. The use of heavily armed gunmen to attack well-defended targets is commonly used by militant groups including al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. It is also a tactic used by militant fighters in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria. Some analysts also suggest that the fighters may have also been self-radicalised over the internet. The most recent issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine, which discussed how to conduct lone gunmen attacks, included a “Wanted” poster entitled, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” The poster is intended to encourage followers to kill people who have supposedly offended Islam. Among the list is Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Charbonnier, who was killed during the attack. Charbonnier had been living under police protection because of previous threats against his life. In October 2012, al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn mentioned Charlie Hebdo in an audio message: “And here is France mocking again our Prophet, Allah’s peace and prayer be upon him, and our Shariah and the recent progress that Muslims achieved in the Arab revolutions […] So, where are the lions of Islam to retaliate for their Prophet, Allah’s peace and prayer be upon, against France and its immoral newspaper [sic] Charlie Hebdo. We ask Allah to reward in the best way those who burned its headquarters and hacked its website, for you cooled off the chests of Muslims. Is there more?” Currently, no concrete links to terrorist organisations have been made.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands have taken part in vigils across the nation to defend freedom of speech, many wearing badges declaring “Je Suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie) in support of the newspaper and the principle of freedom of speech. France’s Muslim Council issued a call for “all Imams in all of France’s mosques to condemn violence and terrorism wherever it comes from in the strongest possible way.” The Muslim community also fears retaliatory strikes; police sources have reported that the window of a kebab shop next to a mosque in the town of Villefrance-sur-Saone was blown out by an overnight explosion. No one was wounded. Three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque shortly after midnight in the city of Le Mans, and a bullet hole was also found in a window of the mosque. In the Port-la-Nouvelle district near Narbonne in southern France, several shots were fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall shortly after evening prayers. The hall was empty, the local prosecutor said.

Earlier today, a police woman was killed in a shootout in Paris, however it is unknown whether the killing is linked to yesterdays shooting spree. The policewoman and a colleague were reportedly attending a traffic accident. Witnesses reported that the shooter fled in a Renault Clio; police observed the assailant wore a bullet-proof vest and had a handgun and assault rifle. However one officer said the shooter did not resemble the Charlie Hebdo shooters.

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