Al Qaida’s branch in Yemen tonight claimed it had directed the attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris “as revenge for the honour” of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
A member of the terror group gace a statement to AP which said “the leadership of AQAP directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully”.
He said the attack was in line with warnings from the late al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to the West about “the consequences of the persistence in the blasphemy against Muslim sanctities”.
He said the group delayed its declaration of responsibility for “security reasons”.
Earlier US intelligence officials said they believed that the elder of the two French suspects, Said Kouachi, had received terrorist training from al Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate for a couple of months in 2011, with the idea of him returning home to mount an attack.
French authorities knew Kouachi travelled to Yemen, but it is not clear whether they knew what he did there. Still, French authorities placed both Kouachi brothers under close surveillance when he returned.
US officials believe the brothers led a normal life for long enough that the French began to view them as less of a threat and reduced the surveillance.
Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has been the most active of the terror network’s branches in trying to strike in the West.
The Charlie Hebdo atrocity is the Yemen-based branch’s first successful strike outside its home territory.
That would be a triumph for its trademark double-strategy: Waging jihad in Yemen to build its strength to strike abroad.
The group, formed in 2009 as a merger between the terror group’s Yemeni and Saudi branches, has been blamed for a string of unsuccessful bomb plots against American targets.
These include a foiled plan to down a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 using a new type of explosive hidden in the bomber’s underwear, and another attempt a year later to send mail bombs hidden in toner cartridges on planes bound to the U.S. from the Gulf.
The group’s lead bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is believed to have created the explosives used in both foiled plots.
Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, which chronicles militant activities, said Yemen’s branch of al Qaida has managed to seize territory inside Yemen, provide training and support for extremist groups operating in Syria, Iraq and other regions, and promote “lone wolf” attacks in the West.
“They are active in the heart of the Middle East. They threaten the Yemeni government and they are directing their activities externally as well,” he said. “And they are serving to train and support in other theaters.”
The group’s leader, Nasser al-Wahishi, spent years as bin Laden’s personal assistant before returning to his native Yemen. His close ties to bin Laden gave him influence within the group’s various branches and led to him assuming leadership of the core group after bin Laden’s death.
His focus on networking with other militant groups in Africa, Iraq and Syria gave the Yemen branch particular prominence in the network. The group is believed to have sent the largest contingent of al Qaida fighters to Iraq in 2009, Roggio said.
The group was the first to use English publications to reach out to supporters in the West, with the launch in 2010 of its English-language magazine, Inspire. It featured commentary by a radical US-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The militant group’s ultimate goal, like the Islamic State, is a global caliphate, Mr Roggio said.
“They have been very effective in their leadership, being able to survive a US drone campaign and plotting attacks, as well as coordinating with other jihadists groups, he said. ”It is a group that sent its fighters to multiple theatres and then re-tasked them to provide support to other jihadist groups.“