Heute hat das Europäische Parlament eine Resolution verabschiedet, die zwar nicht direkt die Forderung nach dieser Listung enthält, aber an zwei Punkten sehr entschieden darauf hinarbeitet. [,,,] mit der Aussage, das Europäische Parlament verurteile „die Terrorakte und die Verbrechen der Separatisten und anderer illegaler Kräfte in der Ostukraine“ …“
Wolnowacha – Angriff auf einen zivilen Reisebus mit vielen Toten, der als erneuter Kriegsauslöser inszeniert wurde
As the world is reacting with justified condemnation to the tragic events in Paris, the same condemnation should be extended to industrialized countries that have resorted to violence and torture in their recent history. In addition, those countries not only have used these techniques themselves but have exported them to other countries. France is a case in point.
Less than a week has passed since the deadly terror attacks in Paris and intelligence agencies in France and around the world are probably still scratching their heads in disbelief, at what might have possibly been the first „joint“ attack by a hybrid AQ-ISIS cell in a Western country.
Saïd Kouachi (aged 34) and his brother Sherif (aged 32) attacked the French newspaper „Charlie Hebdo“ on Wednesday, January 7th, killing 12 people, and claimed right away they were acting in the name of „Al Qaeda in Yemen“ (aka AQAP – Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula), a local branch of AQ central and long-time home to infamously notorious US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Both brothers died in a final shoot-out with French special forces two days later.
While the Kouachi brothers started their deadly attacks, one of their associates prepared another wave of attacks and went about his bloody work on Thursday the 8th, one day after the „Charlie Hebdo“ attack. Amedy Coulibaly (aged 32) ambushed two police officers in central Paris, killing one and seriously injuring another, before managing to escape and finally deciding to launch a synchronised assault on a Kosher supermarket in Eastern Paris, on Friday the 9th, just as his terrorist buddies were being cornered by French SWAT, a few miles further north.
He managed to shoot and kill four Jewish customers as he made his entry into the store, and was finally killed almost at the same time as the Kouachi brothers, as French SWAT stormed the building. In a phone call made during the „siege“ he stated very clearly he was acting in the name of ISIS and had pledged allegiance to its „Caliph“, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a video that surfaced on jihadi social media two days after he was shot and killed by police, he reiterated these statements.
AQ and ISIS collusion ?
Now to some, it may not seem surprising that two jihadi terrorist organisations with the same agenda, similar methods and a common hatred for the West would join forces and try and strike a blow to the „enemy“. However, Al Qaeda and ISIS have not been on good terms for a couple of years and have actually never staged a joint terrorist attack in the West.
ISIS had started as a local offspring of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and later in Syria, but a rift between leaders of both groups appeared soon afterwards, and the now notorious Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided to split from Al Qaeda’s central leadership and start his own thing. We all know what ISIS became in the months and years that followed. Relations between both groups have been tense ever since on the ground in Syria, where they are fighting a common enemy in the person of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, but there have been scuffles and shoot-outs between ISIS militants and Jahbat al-Nusra fighters (Al Qaeda’s franchise there), with casualties on both sides. Furthermore, in Iraq itself, it now seems that this is Baghdadi’s show only, as ISIS is trying to consolidate the ground it gained there and defend it against the US-led coalition.
That is, in brief, the reason why some analysts, experts and intelligence officers must be perplexed at the picture of the two main competitors for leadership in global jihad having possibly staged a joint attack, uniting assets and resources of both organisations in an effort to strike the „Crusaders“.
But of course, the first question that needs to be asked is about the credibility of any claims made both by the terrorists and the organisations they pledged allegiance to. At the moment, it is obviously impossible to say with any certainty if these claims indeed reflect the truth. But if one looks not only at the statements and videos issued, but also the respective MO of the attackers, the evidence found in their cars and homes, as well as the way in which both ISIS and AQ acknowledged their actions, a picture is starting to emerge that makes this prospect look like a distinct possibility.
The fact that police and intelligence agencies in various countries are now also trying to piece together the puzzle of these three men’s movements over the years, their connections to other jihadi militants or radical fundamentalist preachers also points to a desperate search not only for the puppet masters who are behind these attacks but an answer to the question that has everyone on their toes: could AQ and ISIS possibly have acted jointly on this one?
Details of the current investigation can’t be discussed of course, and are obviously beyond the reach of the author of this piece, but looking back at the lives of the three attackers and connecting the dots between them and other jihadis who are well known and well connected to them makes for a very interesting insight into the small world of French, and maybe European or even global islamic terrorism.
The „post 9/11“ jihadi network in Paris
Going back to how it all began would take us far back into the mid-1990s, back to some unsavoury characters whose names are still known to us today. However, that would over-complicate things for a short piece such as this, so let’s focus on the main players and how they turned out to be what they became.
After the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, a radical cleric in the Paris’s 19th district gathered a small crowd of followers around him and started doing what he does best: indoctrinating disgruntled Muslim youths, feeding their hatred for the West with inflammatory speeches and references to the holy Quran. Soon, an informal network was formed, funnelling money and fighters into Iraq. Sherif Kouachi, one of the two attackers on „Charlie Hebdo“, was the leader of this network. Up until then, he had been growing up in foster homes with his brother Saïd, before being moving to Paris and working as a pizza-delivery boy, and occasional petty criminal and thief. But the calls made to help his oppressed brothers in Iraq stirred something inside him. He would never join in on the ground, in Fallujah or elsewhere, leaving it to others to do the fighting, but he would get more and more involved in organising things from France. Several of his associates however, left France and joined Al Qaeda in Iraq, taking part in the battles for Fallujah, some of them ending up as suicide bombers, others coming back maimed for life, but with the aura of a fighter and more determined than ever before to keep on fighting.
In 2005, French police managed to put an end to became known as the „Buttes-Chaumont“ network, named after the area of Paris in which they come to jog or get together. Seven men, among them Sherif Kouachi were imprisoned and later sentenced for their involvement in this network. Interestingly, the older Kouachi brother – Saïd – was not among them, even though he was already known for his radical beliefs.
While in prison, Sherif Kouachi continued his indoctrination and radicalisation, the only difference being that now he could get in touch with the „big boys“ of radical Islam. He got promoted to the big league of global jihad behind prison bars, which is the sad truth behind the story of many European-born would be jihadis, who get in to jail as small fish in a big pond and get out with a sense of purpose and determination they might not have had before.
Prison as an Al Qaeda recruitment ground
The man who’s going to make all the difference in Sherif Kouachi’s life is the Algerian-French Djamel Beghal, then serving time in the same prison for his attempt at blowing up the US embassy in Paris in 2001. The encounter with Beghal is a major step up for Sherif Kouachi. In the 1990s, Beghal has lived in the United Kingdom and has been a frequent visitor to London’s Finsbury mosque, home to figures such as the infamous hate preacher Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the US in October 2012 on charges of hostage taking, conspiracy to establish a militant training camp and calling for holy war.
Beghal had initially been a member of „Jama’at al-Muslimin“ (aka „Takfir-wal-Hijra“), an organisation so radical in its views and actions that even Osama Bin Laden distanced himself from them. But for several years in the 1990s and early 2000s it is believed that Beghal acted as a recruitment agent and organiser of Al Qaeda cells in various European countries.
By the time he met Sherif Kouachi in the French prison of Fresnes, in 2005, Beghal had been jailed for 5 years already. He finally got out in 2009, before causing trouble and being incarcerated again in 2010. However, it was in the years 2005 and 2006, while Kouachi was serving his sentence, that Beghal guided him on the path towards global jihad. Interestingly, another of the Paris terrorists was also jailed in the same prison: Amedy Coulibaly, the hostage taker of the Jewish supermarket in Paris.
Making new „friends“ in jail
By the mid-2000s, Coulibaly was nothing but a thug, drug dealer and bank robber. He had already been sentenced for several robberies or attempted robberies when he met the other two in the Fresnes prison, and had no background in radical islam. He actually only converted to the „takfiri“ brand of Islam during or after another stay in prison, in 2007-2008.
But Coulibaly was by no means the only small-time thug that Beghal, Kouachi and his associates from the „Buttes Chaumont“ network met in jail. Prison is a small world. And for jihadis in prison, it is an even smaller world… And there was yet another man in that same prison who, just like Coulibaly, was not a radical at that time, but would turn out to be on the US „most wanted“ list in 2014: Salim Benghalem, a gang member, sentenced to 10 years for homicide.
At the time, in 2005-2006, Benghalem was a nobody in the world of Al Qaeda, and ISIS didn’t even exist back then. But Benghalem shared a cell with a friend of Kouachi, a man who had wedged war on the American „infidels“ in Iraq, a man who had taken part in the battle in Fallujah, who was injured three times in combat and who’d lost an eye and an arm on the battlefield. Benghalem, no doubt, looked up to his cell mate and buys into the romanticised „war veteran“ stories . . . Once he’d bought into it, there’s also Beghal the ideologist, who was going to finish the job, bringing him over to the „Dark side“.
In this regard, Benghalem and Coulibaly can be seen as two perfect examples of the interaction between jihadi indoctrination of what were originally crooks, thieves bank robbers or gang members … in short, criminals with no radical pasts, but a „bright“ future in Al Qaeda’s or ISIS fight against the West. Both these men, Benghalem and Coulibaly, met each other and became friends in prison. Their paths would cross each other several times after and they probably always stayed in touch, ever since jail time.
Why is this so crucial ? Benghalem’s name may not ring a bell to many, but in the intelligence community, red lights go on as soon as his name is mentioned: in September 2014, the US State Department put him on a list of 10 „Specially Designated Global Terrorists“ under Executive Order 13224. In other words, he’s one of the 10 most wanted foreign terrorists the US is looking for.
Having fled France in 2012 after he was released from jail, now with a strong ideological foundation, after the years spent with Beghal, Kouachi, Coulibaly and co., he went to Syria and joined ISIS, rising to prominence in the terrorist organisation through his accomplishments as fighter, executioner and henchman … This link between the now-infamous ISIS terrorist, Salim Benghalem, and his then prison buddies Coulibaly and Kouachi may later prove crucial in the explanation and answer to the question about Al Qaeda and ISIS collusion in the Paris attacks.
Back to „business“
But we’ve only reached as far as 2010 now and nothing regarding the Paris attacks is in the pipeline at that time. The stage however, has been set for act two in the build-up to last week’s tragedy. The main players are now all islamic radicals, ready to move into action, ready for the „adventure“ of global jihad. Some of them may still have been in jail in 2010, but soon they would be getting out and starting to plot again, under the leadership of Beghal, the former Al Qaeda recruiter and terrorist cell organiser.
Strangely, one central figure of the Paris attacks, Sherif Kouachi’s older brother Said, has never been suspected or arrested of anything at that point. He had passed totally under the radar of all the intelligence agencies. But that was going to change soon afterwards, as he too was finally going to cross the Rubicon and meet his „spiritual leader“ in Yemen … a leader no other than Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric, who preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers, had extensive e-mail exchanges with Fort Hood mass killer, Malik Hasan, and coached Umar Faruk Addulmatallab, the so-called „underwear bomber“ who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines Flight in 2009.
Now comes the time when all these players definitely enter the big league, and they’re intend on making a lasting impression …
In 2010, five years before the events in Paris, nothing seemed to indicate that something big was about to happen. After his release from prison, former Al Qaeda recruiter Djamel Beghal was now living under house arrest, in a godforsaken place in the mountains of Southern France. But he was keeping in touch with his network of friends and associates, both old and new ones, and he was planning for a major operation.
Three generations of radicals
His idea was to organize the prison break of a historic figure of radical islam, imprisoned in northern France for his role in a bombing campaign in 1995 that left 8 people dead and 200 injured. Beghal has gathered a genuine „commando unit“ of radicals who were willing to storm the penitentiary, escape and then prepare again for a major terror campaign in France.
But French intelligence was onto him and Beghal, as well as several co-conspirators were arrested and indicted. What the ensuing trial showed was the multi-faceted shape radical Islam had taken in France, and in Europe for that matter. Three generations of jihadis had been arrested:
– „old timers“ like French-Algerian Ahmed-Laidouni, a veteran of the civil war in Bosnia and former member of the „El-Mudzahid“ brigade. Laidouni had also spent time in Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Also there was Farid Melouk, another radical from the days of the Afghan and Algerian Jihad and a member of the the cell that had perpetrated the bombings of 1995;
– generation „post 9/11“, like Sherif Kouachi in particular and some of his buddies from the „Buttes-Chaumont“ network, that had funnelled fighters into Iraq between 2003 and 2005, and finally
– „newbies“ of Jihad, i.e. ex-gangsters, drug dealers and bank robbers who had been radicalised in prison. Amedy Coulibaly, the Paris hostage taker, was among them of course, but also a number of other new converts.
Charges were pressed, people went to jail – again – and whatever the plan for the „Big one“ was (possibly a large scale cyanide poison attack), it had to be put on the back burner. Not everybody was convicted though. Sherif Kouachi in particular saw his charges dropped, for lack of evidence. Salim Benghalem, the „most wanted“ ISIS terrorist, was also spared and soon vanished into thin air, out of reach for French intelligence.
The Al Qaeda in Yemen connection
Around the same time, in 2011, the other Kouachi brother, Saïd, finally showed his true colours. According to information US intelligence shared with their French counterparts in November 2011, Saïd Kouachi had stayed in Yemen in July and August of that year. Details about his exact whereabouts during his stay are still sketchy, but is is established he got in touch with local Salafi radicals, and might have been trained in one the AQAP’s camps in the country.
Regarding the younger of the two brothers, a possible security lapse in his monitoring by French authorities might have given him a chance to go to Yemen as well, for a period of two weeks in July 2011, approximately at the same time as his brother. French intelligence is still investigating the incident, but if this is confirmed, Sherif Kouachi was probably telling the truth when he said that he had been to Yemen and had trained there for a short time, possibly even meeting US born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. However, until further corroborating evidence is provided, we will disregard this for the time being. In any case, it would only tend to reinforce the AQAP connection of the two brothers.
The 2011 stay in the South of the Arabian peninsula may seem rather astounding to the untrained eye, especially at a time when Kouachi might easily have gone to Pakistan or Iraq. However, his choice to go to Yemen was probably a very calculated one. By 2011, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula had mutated into an efficient fighting force, strong enough to carve out a piece of Yemen for its own purposes. AQAP was also at the forefront of Jihadi technological and combat innovation.
Much is being said about Anwar al-Awlaki and the possibility he might have met both Kouachi brothers during their stay around the city of Shihr, or in the Marib area. But from an operational point of view, AQAP’s effectiveness is more the work of an ex-bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden, who has been at the forefront of military (and terrorist) thinking within the organisation: Yusuf al-Ayeri is the man who put AQAP „on the map“. He was killed in 2003, but his expertise has been taken on board by those who carried on fighting in Yemen. For potential foreign radicals like Saïd Kouachi, AQAP would have been the most attractive and promising of the AQ franchises that existed at the time. AQAP’s operational technics and teachings were beyond anything the other groups had to offer, especially with regard to planning attacks, bombing preselected targets, or producing and using poison – like cyanide.
The other aspect that is worth mentioning about AQAP in relation to the Kouachi brothers, is that this is of course the franchise that created Al Qaeda’s online magazine „Inspire“, in which the chief-editor of „Charlie Hebdo“ is mentioned on a „most wanted list“ … dead or alive. AQAP has now taken officially credit for the operation of the Kouachi brothers against „Charlie Hebdo“, although this can’t be taken at face value yet. It may very well be be that a video testament of both brothers will be sent out through official AQAP channels in a couple of months, which would at that point confirm what is now only one possible scenario, even though it is backed by strong circumstantial evidence.
Whatever the answer to these questions, Saïd Kouachi never returned to Yemen after 2011. The last piece of evidence that is likely to tie him and his brother to the AQAP leadership is an Internet connection between a senior member of AQAP and an unknown Internet user in a cybercafé located just down the road of the Kouachi brothers‘ flat in Paris, in October 2011.
Staying under the radar
French intelligence had now enough to resume serious surveillance on both brothers. For months, their phone conversations and online activities were monitored and 24/7 physical surveillance took place for a while, but to no avail. The Kouachis had learnt their lessons. They were now experienced enough to know what would trigger more police scrutiny and did their best to appear as harmless as possible. Both of them had gotten married and had regular jobs, going as far as distancing themselves from their radical past in regular sit-downs with French intelligence.
During the three years prior to the deadly Paris attacks, none of what they did seemed to call for closer surveillance. The French finally dropped the ball, hamstrung that they were also by strict privacy laws. Resources were scarce and the French counter-terrorism agency was stretched thin already, having to deal more and more with would be jihadis or returnees from Syria.
By the time their old buddy, Amedy Coulibaly, was released from prison once again, in March 2014, there was no tangible proof or evidence linking the Kouachi brothers to any wrongdoing. They had finally managed to disappear almost totally from the radar of the French police. And there were good – and not so good – reasons that could explain or justify downgrading them as potential threats.
The intelligence lapse
The real blunder however, the one that is going to send shockwaves through the French counter-terrorist system is the way they handled Coulibaly. The former bank robber, turned drug dealer, turned jihadi, would remain a unknown quantity from the time he got released in March 2014 to the day he ambushed two police officers in Paris, on January 8th 2015.
That’s a gap of almost 9 months, during which nothing of what he was up to is known. Coulibaly and his wife Hayat Boumediene, the mystery woman who left for Turkey a few days before the Paris attacks, had probably all the time and freedom of movement they needed to recruit a couple of „little hands“ and prepare for what the group had in mind. It seems now more and more likely that these preparations were coordinated with the Kouachi brothers. Hayat Boumediene’s mobile phone, for example, was used to make over 500 calls with Sherif Kouachi’s wife in 2014, and in hindsight, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the people speaking to each were not the two wifes.
Regarding finance and logistics, evidence has also surfaced showing that Coulibaly managed to get a small bank loan approved (worth about 10 000 US dollars) without triggering any background check. That he used this money to help finance the operation and at least buy some of the weapons used in the attack is a definite possibility. Other financial resources must have been used as well though, possibly funds that AQAP provided the brothers with, in 2011, but also money from small time illegal activities the younger Kouachi brother was engaging in.
According to official estimates, the military-grade arsenal that was found both on the attackers and in their homes was worth around 20 000 US dollars. Most of it was bought in Belgium, in Brussels or possibly Antwerp, which have strong connections to Balkan organized crime: the „M82“ Zolja RPG that was found on Sherif Kouachi’s body was a model used only in ex-Yugoslavia. The Tokarev handguns and Skorpion VZ61 submachine gun (also license-built in Yugoslavia) point in the same direction.
A closer look at the „Charlie Hebdo“ attack
The MO of the attacks, especially the apparent lack of an efficient exit strategy, as well as some minor mistakes that could however have had serious consequences on the „success“ of the operation has now some observers guessing as to the level of preparation of the attacks. It would however be seriously misguided to consider the attack on „Charlie Hebdo“ as the opportunistic act of a couple of brain damaged amateurs. Obviously, neither the Kouachi brothers nor Coulibaly were „professional“ hitmen. Their weapon handling skills left much to be desired, contrary to the hyped-up tune that has been coming from some TV channels and other news outlets.
But they had managed to either go totally off the grid, or never even appear on it. The attack on „Charlie Hebdo“ required at least a basic level of research and surveillance, for a considerable amount of time, and was probably carried out by people other than the Kouachi brothers, who first managed to enter into the wrong building on the day of the attack, and then got to the wrong floor. But it is standard procedure in the AQ handbook never to send in the „assault“ group for a recon, not even a last-minute walk through the target area. The danger of the „eye in the sky“ and other CCTV and electronic surveillance is considered too great a risk. As for the lack of a decent exit strategy, this can be traced back directly to tactics taught by AQAP and other AQ franchises: preparing the way in, but not the way out, as these attacks are considered „martyr“ operations and the attackers either improvise their getting away or get killed in a shoot-out with security forces. Such tactics also have an advantage in terms of further diminishing exposure to potential detection during the planning phase of the attack.
By the time Coulibaly sprang into action, the next day, the die was cast. Time and 80 000 police and paramilitary forces were against the group. They would try and last as long as possible, which turned out to be exactly 53 hours after the first attack. In the end, 17 innocent people would have died, in addition to the three terrorists, and a lot of questions needed answers.