The two brothers who executed the terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and were killed by police on Friday, Sherif and Said Kouachi, were well-known to French authorities. They were both on the United States’ no-fly list and were being monitored by French counterterror officials from 2011 to 2014 when they were no longer judged threats to national security. That proved to be a fateful decision.
More interestingly, however, is the fact that Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who killed a French policewoman and four others at a kosher grocery store last week in solidarity if not coordination with the Charlie Hebdo attackers, seems like a relative unknown to French authorities. That should not have been the case.
In the last decade, Coulibaly was the subject of a magazine profile on youth unemployment. He had the opportunity to meet former French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, but only after he had already served four prison sentences for robbery and drug trafficking. Now, a video has emerged purportedly showing Coulibaly saying that he not only approved of the attack on Charlie Hebdo but pledging fealty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“What we are doing is completely legitimate, given what they are doing,” Coulibaly told the camera in fluent French. “You cannot attack and not expect retribution so you are playing the victim as if you don’t understand what’s happening.”
“At the end of the video Coulibaly calls for others to carry out similar attacks,” Haaretz revealed. “In Germany, arsonists early Sunday attacked a newspaper that republished Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons. Two men were detained. No one was hurt in the fire, but the newspaper Hamburger Morgenpost said several files in its archives were destroyed.”
As for Coulibaly’s partner who remains at large, Hayat Boumeddiene, The Wall Street Journal reported that French officials now believe she was smuggled out of the country to a Turkish city known to authorities as a site regularly used by Westerners to illegally cross into Syria.
A senior Turkish official said Ms. Boumeddiene flew to Turkey with one companion on Jan. 2, landing at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport. The official would not name her travel companion but said Turkish intelligence officials were in constant contact with their French counterparts.
The pair stayed in Istanbul until Jan. 4, when they flew to the southeastern city of Urfa, and most likely headed to Syria, the official said.
“After Urfa, we lost track of them… most likely they crossed into Syria,” the official said.
Boumeddiene’s instnct to flee France and head directly for northern Syria supports the notion that Coulibaly was sympathetic toward ISIS’s cause.
More disturbing than the links to ISIS here is the fact that the most wanted woman in France was able to outwit and evade European authorities and transit into Syria. That is a feat that could only be accomplished by someone with access to a large and well-connected network. Unconfirmed reports have begun to surface suggesting that the attacks in Paris did have some direction from authorities within al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Their increasingly apparent sophistication speaks to the veracity of those reports.