An excellent question raised by the Free Beacon, one I’ve been thinking about all morning. The answer will help determine the extent of international reprisals for the attack.
A brutal video from the terrorist shootings in Paris shows men armed with Kalashnikov rifles releasing heavy fire in the middle of a street and executing a police officer.
In the video, one of the gunmen walked over to assassinate the wounded officer, previously hit, to shoot him in the head from point-blank range as he held his hands up…
Screams can be heard in the background as the two men walked down the street then headed back to their car. The terrorists spoke perfect French, and experts said the video suggests the gunmen had extensive military training. Their calm demeanor indicates that this was a well planned attack.
“Well planned” is putting it mildly. Their timing was impeccable:
This was a well-planned attack: the gunmen hit #CharlieHebdo in the middle of the weekly conference, with all staff present.
— Daphnée Denis (@daphneedenis) January 7, 2015
At least one report out there claims they knew who they were looking for. Supposedly, once they broke into the building and confronted the staff, they asked for their targets by name. I haven’t seen that confirmed yet but it makes sense given how many top players at Charlie Hebdo ended up dead. They murdered the magazine’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, and three cartoonists. Some of these people would have escaped purely by chance, I suspect, if the jihadis had gone in with guns blazing to kill indiscriminately.
Who were they? A clue:
“Corinne Rey, a designer known as Coco, has told L’Humanité that she was forced to let the attackers into the Charlie Hebdo building. She said:
“I had gone to pick up my daughter from daycare. Arriving at the door of the newspaper building, two hooded and armed men brutally threatened us.
“They wanted to enter, go up. I typed the code. They shot Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I had taken refuge under a desk …
“They spoke French perfectly … claiming to be Al-Qaida.”
I can’t decipher all of this piece, as it’s in French, but apparently they told another eyewitness that they were from Al Qaeda in Yemen specifically. Maybe that’s something, maybe it’s nothing. 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. That’s one of many reasons why jihadi groups choose suicide bombs as their preferred M.O., I think: It doesn’t depend on the attacker’s ability to carry out a complicated plan under pressure. If you can get the device on him and convince him that paradise awaits, you’re basically home free. 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?
There’s a lot riding on those answers for Hollande and NATO. If these two really are from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a.k.a. the Yemeni branch, what’s the proper response? Exit question: How likely is it that they’re not homegrown if they “spoke French perfectly”?
Update: The pros see expertise at work here too:
“They carried out the operation in a very calm, controlled way,” said Richard Clarke, former White House counter-terrorism advisor and current ABC News consultant. “They appear to have fire discipline, not spraying bullets everywhere. They were people who did not look like they were wild, on some kind of spree, but who were accomplishing a military operation.”
Another expert, a former Army special operations counter-terrorism official, agreed and said it appeared the masked, AK-47-weilding attackers likely had conducted extensive reconnaissance on their target in order to have struck so effectively and manage to escape, all without appearing to panic.
“I don’t think you can act like the way I’m seeing them act… and be on your first rodeo,” he said.
In addition to the military-style kit and weapons the attackers use, the former operator said that in a video that shows the apparent death of a police officer, one of the gunman is seen picking up what appears to be a shoe near the getaway car – something that an amateur would likely forget in the heat of the moment.
A terrible thought on a terrible day: The success of this attack may encourage other western jihadis to choose guns over bombs going forward. Bombs, as noted above, are easier for an amateur to deploy but they’re much harder for him to obtain. Jihadis have stuck with them mainly, I assume, because they’re more spectacular than mass shootings and will in theory produce a higher body count. The Hebdo attackers may cause them to revisit that logic.