Jihad Operatives in France Affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS Carry Out Shooting Attacks Killing 17

Video of Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly, who carried out the shooting attack at the kosher supermarket in Paris, swearing his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader. On the wall behind him is the ISIS flag (Vocativ.com, January 11. 2015).
Video of Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly, who carried out the shooting attack at the kosher supermarket in Paris, swearing his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader. On the wall behind him is the ISIS flag (Vocativ.com, January 11. 2015).


1.   Between January 7 and 9, 2015, local jihadist operatives carried out a series of shooting attacks in Paris, including a mass shooting attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which had long been in the jihadi organizations' crosshairs (12 killed, ten employees and two policemen); a shooting attack at a Jewish school that was not carried out, apparently because of a traffic accident (one policewoman killed); and a shooting attack and bargaining attempt at a kosher supermarket (four killed, all Jewish). Seventeen people were killed and more than 10 were wounded.

2.   The attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo was carried out by two Islamist jihadists of Algerian extraction linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The organization issued a video expressing solidarity with the attack and calling on jihadists to carry out additional attacks in France (although AQAP did not officially claim responsibility). The terrorist operative who carried out the attack in the kosher supermarket was a French jihadist who had sworn allegiance to the ISIS leader, which did not officially claim responsibility for the attack (ISIS-supporting jihadists used the social networks to praise the attack).

3.   Initial observations regarding the series of terrorist attacks are the following:

1)               France as the country preferable for carrying out terrorist attacks: In ITIC assessment France is in the crosshairs of ISIS and other jihadi organizations and operatives. That is because it joined the campaign against ISIS (which led it to call for "the burning of France" and "smashing the heads of the infidels"), and because the global jihad's operational capabilities in France made such attacks possible. Fundamentally, jihadi capabilities exist because France has a large alienated Muslim population from which jihad operatives are recruited. The jihadi threat in France is reflected in the large number of French foreign fighters who joined the ranks of ISIS and other jihadi organizations in Syria, larger than the numbers from any other Western country.[1] However, the recent attacks illustrated the enormity of the threat that also comes from local jihadists, not necessarily only those who had gone to Syria.

2)               The nature of the chosen targets: The iconoclastic weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo was in the jihadi organizations' crosshairs for many years. In the past the weekly was threatened and its offices were firebombed. The kosher supermarket and the Jewish school where an attack was planned indicate (and not for the first time) that Jewish institutions in France (and in Europe in general) are targeted by supporters of ISIS and other jihadi organizations (the attack on Jewish museum in Brussels was carried out by a French jihadist with ties to ISIS).

3)               A relatively high level of operational capability: In the recent attacks, especially the one on Charlie Hebdo, the terrorist operatives demonstrated greater daring and operational capability than the other attacks carried out jihadists around the globe since the beginning of the American campaign against ISIS. The two brothers gained access to the Charlie Hebdo offices, which were apparently secured, apparently having intelligence about procedures, and preplanned their escape from the scene of the attack. The attack on the kosher supermarket and the attack on the school which was not carried out involved a lower level of operational capability, possibly because they were spontaneous and intended to magnify the effect of the attack on Charlie Hebdo and support the perpetrators.

4)               The nature of the link between AQAP and ISIS: The terrorists expressed solidarity with AQAP and ISIS, two rival organizations, the former a branch of Al-Qaeda in Yemen and the latter a jihadi organization challenging the Al-Qaeda leadership. The Kouachi brothers had previous links to AQAP. The collaboration of the terrorist operatives involved in the attacks was apparently the fruit of local initiatives and interpersonal relations, and not a function of established collaboration between the ISIS and AQAP leaderships. The local collaboration of operatives from rival organizations can occur again in other Western countries and may increase the operational capabilities of global jihad operatives in their campaign against the West and the Jewish people.

5)               Prognosis: The terrorist attacks in Paris are liable to encourage jihadist operatives, both "lone wolves" and organized jihadi networks, to carry out more attacks in France and other Western countries (especially those in the coalition against ISIS). The return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria and their uniting with local operatives is liable to lead to attacks carried out by operatives handled by ISIS and other terrorist organization headquarters, and to make jihadi terrorism in the West more organized and lethal.

The Series of Attacks[2]

Shooting Attack at the Offices of Charlie Hebdo

4.   On the afternoon of January 7, 2015, two terrorist operatives wearing ski masks and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles entered the offices of the iconoclastic weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, located in the 11th Arrondissement in the center of Paris, where an editorial meeting was being held. They opened fire, shooting and killing 12 people, ten Charlie Hebdo employees and two policemen. Ten people were wounded, five of them seriously or critically. Among the dead were four senior cartoonists and the paper's editor. Police forces arriving on the scene did not manage to shoot or catch the terrorist operatives, who fled the scene in a waiting car driven by a third operative.

5.   Three terrorist operatives were involved in the attack: two brothers of Algerian extraction, Said and Chérif Kouachi, who did the shooting, and Mourad Hamoud (aka Hamid), their getaway driver. The Kouachis had links to AQAP, which issued a video in support of the attack and urged more attacks be carried out in France. The French police released the names of the brothers after the driver, Mourad Hamoud, left an identity card in the getaway vehicle. On the night of January 7, 2015, Hamoud was apprehended in a town on the France-Belgium border (according to a different version he turned himself in).

6.   After leaving the scene of the attack the Kouachi brothers robbed a gas station. On the morning of January 9, 2015, the French security forces tracked them to the town of Dammartin-en-Goële, about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) northeast of Paris. They holed up in a printing plant with a hostage. The police established telephone communications with them and the brothers claimed they wanted to die as shaheeds. During the afternoon the French security forces rushed the printing plant and the Kouachi brothers died in an exchange of fire. The hostage was freed unharmed.

7.   Charlie Hebdo had been a target for the global jihad for many years for having printed cartoons and jokes about the prophet Muhammad. Three years ago, after claiming it planned to rename itself "Charia [i.e., the sharia, Islamic religious law] Hebdo" and devote an entire issue to Muhammad, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the building, completely destroying its offices. The recent attack was carried out at its new location, whose address was kept quiet.

8.   AQAP, with which the Kouachi brothers were affiliated, publicly called on jihadists to attack cartoonists who had "insulted the prophet Muhammad" and in March 2013 even issued a notice with the names and pictures of 10 individuals who had "insulted Islam." One of the individuals was Charlie Hebdo's editor, who died in the attack (See Appendix B). The paper's last tweet was a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The Shooting Attack at a Jewish School that Went Sideways

9.  On January 8, 2015, the day after the shooting attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices, a man wearing a bulletproof vest used an automatic weapon to shoot at police in a southern suburb of Paris. A policewoman was killed and a policeman was wounded. The terrorist operative was later identified as a jihadist named Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly, who had made a video in which he swore allegiance to the ISIS leader (See below). He fled the scene, and one day later carried out the shooting attack in the kosher market.

10. The attack on the Jewish school was apparently not carried out because of a traffic accident; the school was located nearby. A ballistics examination showed that on the previous day Coulibaly had shot and critically wounded a jogger in a nearby park.

A Combined Shooting Attack and Bargaining Attempt in the Kosher Supermarket

The kosher supermarket (Hyper Cacher) where the attack took place (Google Street View)
The kosher supermarket (Hyper Cacher) where the attack took place (Google Street View)

11.          The most recent attack in Paris was carried out on the afternoon of January 9, 2015. Amedy Coulibaly took over a kosher supermarket in the eastern part of Paris. He entered the store and indiscriminately shot shoppers. He killed four of them and took an estimated 15 others hostage. A Muslim store employee helped another group of shoppers to hide in a refrigerator in the basement. Coulibaly tried to use the hostages as bargaining chips for the release of the Kouachi brothers, with whom he was connected and who were at the time in the printing factory in Dammartin-en-Goële.

12.          Amedy Coulibaly threatened to kill all the hostages if the police tried to break into the store. Several hours later the police rushed the supermarket, killed Coulibaly and released the hostages unharmed. Four French Jews were killed in the attack: Yoav Hattab, Phillipe Barham, Yohan Cohen and François-Michel Saada. They were buried in Israel.

Portraits of the Terrorists – Initial Findings[3]


13.          So far three terrorist operatives are known, who carried out a series of attacks in Paris and maintained personal and operational contact with one another. They had at least two identified supporters (a man and a woman); others may have been involved. The French media reported that in addition to Mourad Hamoud, who turned himself in, 16 others were apprehended by the French security forces on suspicion of involvement. Five of them are still detained, suspected of being linked to the same terrorist network as the Kouachi brothers.

Said and Chérif Kouachi

Left: French police wanted poster of the Kouachi brothers (New.com.au, January 8, 2015). Right: The Kouachi brothers (Twitter, January 7, 2015).
Left: French police wanted poster of the Kouachi brothers (New.com.au, January 8, 2015). Right: The Kouachi brothers (Twitter, January 7, 2015).

14.          The two terrorists who carried out the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo were Said and Chérif Kouachi, 32 and 34 years of age, Muslims of Algerian extraction from Paris. They were orphaned at a young age and adopted by a family in Rennes. Both brothers had criminal backgrounds. (In the past the ITIC identified other instances of criminal backgrounds among jihadists in Western countries.)

15.          According to French sources, the Kouachis had ties with AQAP, as the organization may have confirmed (See below). French sources also reported that they had returned from Syria a number of months ago. During the attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices a witness heard one of them say that "You can tell the media this is Al-Qaeda in Yemen," i.e., Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AP.org, January 8, 2015). Both brothers had been on the American list of terrorists for several years (AFP.com, January 9, 2015).

16.          Chérif Kouachi had been known to the law enforcement and security authorities in France for a decade. He customarily listened to the sermons of a Muslim preacher named Farid Benyettou, a mentor for many young Muslims who urged them to go to fight in Iraq and who justified terrorist attacks. Chérif Kouachi was apprehended for the first time in 2005 because of his intention to go to Iraq. Testifying in 2008, he said he desired to attack Jewish targets in France and in the end decided it was better to fight American soldiers. He was sentenced to three years in prison for involvement in a network that recruited young Muslims in France to fight in Iraq. Since he had already been imprisoned for three years, it was considered time served and he was released.

17.          While in prison he became acquainted with a jihadist operative named Jamal Beghal, who was accused of planning to attack the American embassy in Paris, and who received a ten-year sentence in 2006. Jamal Beghal was also Amedy Coulibaly's spiritual mentor, and of Coulibaly's companion, Hayat Boumediene (Le Monde, January 9, 2015).

18.          The news agencies, based on information received from sources in Yemeni intelligence, reported that Said Kouachi had been in Yemen in 2001 where he met with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born jihadist operatives, who was a senior figure in AQAP (he was killed by a drone in a targeted American attack in September 2011). According to American sources, while Said Kouachi was in Yemen he spent several months undergoing military training (Nytimes.com, January 9, 2015). According to ITIC information, AQAP did in fact recruit Western operatives to its ranks and train them in camps in Yemen.

Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly
Left: Hayat Boumediene, Coulibaly's companion, who went to Syria through Turkey before the attacks were carried out. Right: Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly (French police photos).
Left: Hayat Boumediene, Coulibaly's companion, who went to Syria through Turkey before the attacks were carried out. Right: Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly (French police photos).

19.          Amedy (Ahmedy) Coulibaly was 32 years old, French of Senegalese extraction, and lived near Paris. He was one of ten children and from a young age was in trouble with the law for minor misdemeanors. In September 2002 he was accused of robbing a bank. In 2013 he was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in liberating a prisoner who was serving a life term for involvement in bombing the Paris Métro in 1995. Coulibaly was released after a number of months (Chérif Kouachi was detained and interrogated for the same attack but released without being charged).

20.          Amedy Coulibaly called himself an ISIS operative and claimed he had coordinated his attack in the supermarket with the Kouachi brothers (AFP.com, January 9, 2015). A video issued after the attack indicated his support of ISIS (See below). At this point it is unclear if Coulibaly had established ties with ISIS and whether and to what degree he was directly handled by the organization.

21.          Hayat Boumediene is 26 years old and was Coulibaly's lifetime companion (according to other versions, his wife). They met in 2010 on one of the occasions he was detained. She waited until he was released and they had lived together in a Paris suburb since then. According to an official source in Turkey, she entered the country on January 2, 2015, that is, she fled before the attacks were carried out. A video shows her at the airport in Istanbul. In ITIC assessment, she crossed the border into Syria to join ISIS there.

22.          In a video posted on ISIS forums on January 11, 2015, more than 24 hours after the attack, Amedy Coulibaly identifies himself as Abu Bashir Abdallah the African and swears allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In it he sits next to a Kalashnikov assault rifle, the weapon he used to carry out the shooting attacks. He says he has been "a soldier of the [Islamic] Caliphate since its inception," and that France is a legitimate target for attacks "because of what it did to us" [i.e., because it attacked the Islamic State]. He claims that the operatives coordinated the attacks in Paris. He explains how he helped the Kouachi brothers to prepare the attack, and claims they did things both together and separately. He also claims he gave them several thousand euros to purchase equipment for the attack (Vocativ.com, January 11, 2015).[4]

Amedy Coulibaly swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and claims France is a legitimate target for terrorist attacks (Vocativ.com, January 11, 2015)
Amedy Coulibaly swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and claims France is a legitimate target for terrorist attacks (Vocativ.com, January 11, 2015)

[1]In September 2014 the French minister of the interior reported that approximately 930 French citizens were either fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq or planning to join them. It is the largest number of foreign fighters from any Western country (Britain is second with 500 foreign fighters). For further information see the November 27, 2014 bulletin, "ISIS, Portrait of a Jihadi Terrorist Organization."
[2]As of January 13, 2015.
[3]Updated to January 13, 2015, based on information in the French, global and Arab media.
[4]According to expert opinion, the video was not produced by ISIS because it does not contain the organization's usual elements. It was apparently posted by local French operatives that identify with ISIS and at least some of it was recorded before the attacks. Some of it was apparently edited during the search for the terrorists, in all probability by Coulibaly's helpers.