An al Qaeda affiliate has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a French satirical magazine that killed 12 people, claiming the murders were in response to "blasphemy."
“The leadership of AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully,” a statement from the group says, according to The Associated Press. The statement went on to say the attack was to “revenge the honor” of the Prophet Muhammad.
Separately today an AQAP official appeared in a video online praising the attack on the “dirty French.”
Before their deaths at the hands of police today, Cherif and Said Kouachi, the two men suspected of killing 12 people in an attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, reportedly told a local news station they were working on behalf of AQAP.
“I was sent, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen, and that I went there and that it was [high-level American AQAP member] Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, may he rest in peace, who financed me,” the man who identified himself as Kouachi told BFM TV.
AQAP is believed by American security officials to be the most lethal of al Qaeda’s affiliates, and Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was a top recruiter and alleged external operations chief for the terror group before he was killed in a CIA drone strike in September 2011. U.S. officials had previously said that Cherif’s brother, Said, was the one who traveled to Yemen for terror training.
Charlie Hebdo had been on al Qaeda’s hit list for years, ever since the magazine printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which is forbidden in Islam. That act led to nothing less than a “declaration of war” from AQAP, according to Morten Storm, who infiltrated the terror organization for Danish, British and American intelligence agencies.
BFM TV said later another man who had allegedly killed a police officer and then taken several people hostage in a Parisian supermarket called into its news station. That man, Amedy Coulibaly, claimed his attack on French police was “synchronized” with the Kouachis’ attack on Charlie Hebdo. But instead of AQAP, Coulibaly claimed he was part of ISIS, a rival terrorist group to al Qaeda.
Both standoffs with police ended nearly simultaneously as authorities executed rescue operations at both locations today, killing all the gunmen involved. Four civilians were killed in the supermarket where Coulibaly was holed up, according to the French Ministry of Interior. Police are still searching for an alleged accomplice of Coulibaly's, a 26-year-old woman named Hayat Boumeddiene.
Al Qaeda and ISIS have been locked in a bloody struggle for support in their cause for global jihad. ISIS was once an al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, but broke from the group and renamed itself -- claiming that it had established a caliphate in the Middle East and demanding the loyalty of all Muslims.
Earlier today a French prosecutor told ABC News the attacks also appeared to be linked because Kouachi and Coulibaly had both been arrested in connection with a larger plot to spring another terrorist, Smain Ali Belkacem, from prison in 2010. Belkacem had been convicted for his role in a deadly 1995 terror attack on the French metro system that claimed eight lives and injured 150 others. Kouachi was reportedly released due to lack of evidence, but Coulibaly was convicted and spent some time in prison.
Storm predicted that AQAP would wait until the incidents were over to issue a statement of responsibility and said he wasn’t particularly surprised they may have been behind the brutal attack. After all, when he was a double agent inside AQAP, the Kouachis were exactly the type of operatives the terror group wanted to recruit.
“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,” Storm told ABC News.