After their accomplice turned himself in, “reportedly after he saw his name circulating on social media,” the gunmen have been identified – but they remain at large. Their affiliation with terrorist organizations, if any, remains unclear:
On at least one jihadist website, the group calling itself the Islamic State, but more widely known as ISIS or Da’esh, appeared to claim responsibility for the shooting, which also injured 11 people, four of them seriously. But many jihadist groups have grievances against France because of its leadership in the war against them in Mali, its participation in the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, its laws imposing secularism in public offices and schools, and the ban on full-face veils, known as niqabs or burqas, on Muslim women.
The Kouachi brothers may be linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of the organization active in Yemen. Noah Feldman thinks through the implications:
If indeed the Paris attack is the work of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the franchise that includes Yemen, then its purpose is almost certainly to regain public attention from Islamic State and remind the world, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that the old jihadi terrorist paradigm is still effective. France has no troops in the Middle East right now, so the attack needed another excuse. A satirical magazine that has made fun of the Prophet was just a convenient reason to get the al-Qaeda approach back in the headlines.
Of course, it’s possible that an Islamic State connection may still be found to this attack. If it is, that would be evidence that the group wanted capture the traditional al-Qaeda terrorism market for its own brand. That would be important and interesting, because it would mean Islamic State was trying to monopolize the global terrorism franchise.
Josh Rogin points to a recent ISIS video that urged followers to attack targets in France:
“If you are unable to come to Syria or Iraq, then pledge allegiance in your place — pledge allegiance in France,” a French jihadi identified as Abu Salman al-Faranci says in the video. “Operate within France. Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror.” He then offers more practical advice, implying that there were IS assets already in place to aid in such attacks. “There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit,” he said. “Even poison is available, so poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah. Kill them and spit in their faces and run over them with your cars.”
But it’s not clear whether the Kouachi brothers were acting on specific orders from above or on their own, but Allahpundit finds it hard to believe that an attack this well-executed was the work of lone wolves:
It’s possible, I guess, that two French Muslim amateur terrorists fancied themselves members of the group in spirit, if not in fact, and wanted to do something sensational to earn their jihadi stripes. In that case, though, why didn’t they go to Syria to fight with ISIS as so many budding western mujahedeen do? And if they’re amateurs, they’re awfully precocious — taking time to learn the Hebdo publication schedule and keeping cool while executing staff members, all the while knowing that police could descend on the building at any moment, demonstrates a degree of poise you wouldn’t expect to find in a rookie. …
These two degenerates not only assassinated their targets individually, like ISIS does in lining up Shiites and noncompliant Sunnis to be shot, they had the balls and skills to leave the building and get away. When was the last time there was a major terror in the west that didn’t end up with the perpetrators splattered on the ground when it was over? And where exactly did these guys get AKs and a rocket launcher?
Juan Cole notes how the brothers were radicalized:
[I]n early 2003 at the age of 20, Sharif Kouashi and his brother Said started attending the al-Dawa Mosque in the Stalingrad quarter. They had showed up with long hair, smoking, and lots of bad habits. The mosque gave them a sense of purpose. Sharif told his later lawyer, “Before, I was a delinquent.”
One member of the congregation at the al-Dawa Mosque was Farid Benyettou. He was only a year older than Sharif, but was learned in Muslim texts, and taught informal classes at his apartment after prayers at the mosque. The boys began spending time with Benyettou. They stopped smoking, stopped getting high. At his apartment, Benyettou took them on the internet, and showed them images from Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sharif said, “It was everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that, which motivated me.” …
Without Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is not at all clear that Sharif Kouachi would have gotten involved in fundamentalist vigilanteism. And if he hadn’t, he would not have gone on to be a point man in murdering out the staff of Charlie Hebdo along with two policemen.
Joshua Keating points out that “recent days have also seen a series of smaller attacks in France”:
On Dec. 20, French police shot dead a man who had shouted “Allahu Akbar” while stabbing three officers in a police station near the city of Tours. Just before Christmas, the country saw two attacks, one in Nantes and another in Dijon, involving cars hitting pedestrians, which fit a pattern of similar recent attacks around the world. In the car attacks, prosecutors specifically said the men were mentally unbalanced and that these were not instances of political or religious terrorism, though that definition seems a little hard to parse given that the Dijon driver was a recent convert to Islam who was reportedly upset over the treatment of Chechen children.
And today, there was another shooting in Paris, this time of a policewoman, which authorities believe may be linked to yesterday’s slaughter:
Officials described Thursday’s shooting as another terrorist attack. Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman said they were braced for a “wave” of terrorism. “It’s probably not the end,” he said. “We are ready to face it. We will fight.” Heavily armored commando units were deployed at the southern edge of Paris as a second major manhunt got underway on what was supposed to be an official day of mourning. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who rushed out of an emergency cabinet meeting about the previous attack, arrived in the suburb of Malakoff to say that the gunman had escaped. Three armed killers are now at large.
Follow all Dish coverage of the terrorism in France here.