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The 2013 al-Qa’ida hit list and the Paris terrorist attack

Friday 9 January 2015

There are still some mysteries surrounding the jihadi attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2014, like why did the attackers leave their identity cards in the car involved in the attack and made it so easy to identify them. Questions did rise if these were really the attackers or if others had used the cards to lay a false track for French investigators.

The pictures of the attack show a highly trained and professional operating attack unit, who knew exactly what they were doing and had thoroughly prepared their attack in a commando raid style. So why make such a sloppy mistake by leaving ID cards? Most jihadis, when they arrive in Syria or in other theaters, have to leave their personal belongings with the al-Qa’ida administrators during their intake. A principle that is in use with al-Qa’ida since it was founded in the late 1980s.

Omar Nasiri (pseudonym) who worked in the 1990s for Western Intelligence Services and had infiltrated into jihadi circles in Afghanistan, wrote in his book ‘Inside the Jihad’ how he had to give up his personal belongings and passport to Abu Zubaydah during his intake meeting in Peshawar and how this was standard operational procedure within the jihadi groups. As such, the three who are linked to the attack might be decoys, but in the coming days it will become clear if the French authorities really are going after the right attackers.

What is clear also is that there is a link with al-Qa’ida. According to a French press report one of the attackers told a bystander that the attack was executed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) it is known also that there is a longstanding and active cooperation between what is now called the Khorasan Unit of al-Qa’ida’s Syrian outfit Jabhat al-Nusra and AQAP. Not only are Khorasan Unit fighters being instructed by AQAP explosive experts, there are reports that specially selected fighters are sent from Syria to Yemen for advanced training and expert instruction.

Yesterday Michael Smith wrote on the blog Downrange how AQAP’s social media outfits were responding swift and immediately after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. “Within hours of the attack today in France, Twitter accounts used to promote al-Qa’ida propaganda began Tweeting an updated version of the hit list published by AQAP in Inspire last year – a red X imposed over the photo of Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier.” In Inspire Magazine number 10, published in 2013 on page 14-15, a list with persons who are targeted for ‘Crimes against Islam.’ The list included not only Stephane Charbonnier but also other cartoonist like Kurt Westergaard, Lars Vilks and Molly Norris, journalists Carsten Luste and Flemming Rose, writer Salman Rushdie, filmmaker Morris Sadek, politicians Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and koran burning American pastor Terry Jones.

In early March 2006 Zawahiri released a first message in response to the Muhammad Cartoons controversy. In it Zawahiri list a lot of actions taken by Western governments and in the Western Society that he does not like. He singles out France. “The insults against Prophet Muhammad are not the result of freedom of opinion but because what is sacred has changed in this defeated culture. The Prophet Muhammad, prayers be upon him, and even Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, are not sacred any more, while Semites and the Nazi Holocaust and homosexuality have become sacred. In France, a law was issued to prosecute anyone who doubts that the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews didn’t happen while they forbid Muslims to wear the veils in their public schools. In France, a Muslim father cannot prevent his daughter from having sex because she is protected by the law, but this same law punishes her if she covers her hair.”

He goes on in more general times about the West: “They invade our land, rob our wealth and then they insult us, insult our religion, our faith and our prophet then they come back to give us lectures about freedom, equality and human rights. But we cannot fight these insults by demonstrations and burning embassies alone then going back and living our daily lives as we used to before. This will not be worthy enough for the great value of the Prophet peace be upon him. But in order to face these insults, we need to rise as a one nation, to fight the crusaders campaign against Islam in everything that we have. But we have to ask ourselves, are we ready to sacrifice ourselves and everything that we own for the glory of God or do we only care about this materialistic life instead of caring about our own faith.”

The 2006 message was mild compared to the message of al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri printed in Inspire no. 10 (pages 12-13). In this message Zawahiri calls for attacks on those who insult the prophet Muhammad “So, O zealous sons of Islam in every corner of this earth, support your Prophet, and Allah will support you, take revenge on each and every one who has assaulted or made blasphemy against him.”

In September 2012 Charlie Hebdo published a series of satirical cartoons of Muhammad including nude caricatures of the prophet. The White House denounced the cartoons and also then French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was critical about the cartoons as they came weeks after an Islam mocking video, produced by Morris Sadek went viral getting enraged responses from the Islamic World. Fabius asked if it “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?" He made clear that there is a total freedom of expression in France. Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier defended the publication by saying: "We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.”

If this is a coordinated attempt by al-Qa’ida to take on those who are on 2013 target list we can expect more attacks in the near future in the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and the U.S. but it needs to be awaited if this is the case.

There are flaws in the 7 January attack in Paris. First, the attackers ran into the wrong building and then they left one identity card. If this was done deliberately, another attack will follow soon, if it was amateurism, we will find out soon.

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