A former Western spy who purportedly infiltrated al Qaeda said today that two men responsible for a massacre at a French satirical magazine Wednesday were likely part of an al Qaeda “sleeper cell” that may have been planning the attack for years under the nose of French intelligence.
“It was a very smart and organized attack on free speech and the Western world. What I can say from my experience or from my knowledge is that these people here have managed to deceive French intelligence to believe that, while they were once extremists, they no longer were,” said Morten Storm, a Danish national who was close to al Qaeda in the early 2000s before flipping to spy on the terrorist organization for Danish, British and American intelligence. “So they managed to get under the radar and… they finally woke up again, like a sleeper cell, and [committed] this atrocity.”
Storm, who chronicled his double life in the book “Agent Storm,” says he spied on al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate AQAP for years ending in 2012, including the during the time period that U.S. officials say at least one of the Paris gunmen traveled to Yemen to receive terror training. Storm told ABC News he didn’t recognize the names of the suspects – brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi – but he recognized the training and the type of operatives al Qaeda would try to recruit.
“There were Europeans who traveled to Yemen in order to receive this training,” Storm said. “[High-ranking American AQAP figure] Anwar al-Awlaki asked me for years to supply AQAP with Europeans, 'western brothers,' meaning Western Europeans, and some of them should have clean passports so they could travel back and forth, to receive training and go back to the West and carry out these atrocities.”
Terror training camps in Yemen, Storm said, were run by al Qaeda members from all over the world with extensive military experience from their home countries.
Both Kouachi brothers were killed today in a French special operations raid, two days after authorities say they killed 12 people, including two policemen, in a coordinated, daytime attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Late Thursday U.S. officials said that 34-year-old Said Kouachi had traveled to Yemen in 2011 and received training from AQAP. Prior to that, Cherif, 32, was arrested in France in 2005 on terror charges and served at least 18 months in prison.
Charlie Hebdo had been on al Qaeda’s hit list for years, ever since they printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which is forbidden in Islam. That act, Storm said, led to nothing less than a “declaration of war” from AQAP.
Several counter-terrorism experts told ABC News shortly after Wednesday’s attack that it appeared to have been very well planned and deliberately executed by trained militants. One eye-witness video showed the two gunmen engaging a policeman, wounding him and then calmly executing him as they move through a Parisian street.
“I don’t think you can act like the way I’m seeing them act… and be on your first rodeo,” a former member of Army special operations told ABC News.
A day after the Charlie Hebdo attack, a French policeman was murdered by another gunman in what top French officials called another act of “terror.” Today, both that attacker and Kouachi brothers took hostages in separate locations as they were cornered by police.
Both hostage situations ended violently as French authorities launched simultaneous rescue operations, killing the Kourachi brothers and the other gunman, according to French officials.
The incidents indicated the Kouachi brothers may have been part of a bigger network in Paris, according to former White House counter-terrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke.
“This is clearly a cell, a sleeper cell, and we don’t know how big it is,” Clarke said.