AFP Photo / HO / Al-Malahem Media

Al-Qaeda in Yemen claims responsibility for Charlie Hebdo attack

Top leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula says in video that it ‘laid out the plan’ for attack on Charlie Hebdo

A top leader of Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen has claimed responsibility for last week's attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in which two masked gunmen killed 12 people, including much of the weekly's editorial staff and three police officers.

Nasr al-Ansi, a top commander of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) appeared in an 11-minute video posted online on Wednesday, saying the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was in "vengeance for the prophet." The two brothers who carried out the attack, Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, were "heroes," Ansi said.

The paper had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered an insult to Islam. On Wednesday the first issue of the weekly since the attack sold out before dawn in Paris. The cover features a cartoon image of Muhammad.

Ansi said AQAP "chose the target, laid out the plan and financed the operation," but he did not produce evidence to support the claim. He said that France "shared all of America's crimes" against Muslims — a reference to France's military offensive in Mali — and that France belongs to the "party of Satan" and warned of more "tragedies and terror" in the future. 

The assault on Charlie Hebdo was the beginning of three days of violence in France, as a third gunmen, in apparent coordination with the Kouachis, shot and killed a policewoman and took several hostages in a kosher grocery store. All three gunmen were eventually killed by security forces; four hostages were also killed in a raid on the grocery. 

On Saturday another senior AQAP member, Harith al-Nadhari, also claimed responsibility for the attack in an audio recording, saying the shooting was an operation to teach the French the limits of freedom of expression.

On Sunday two senior Yemeni sources said both brothers traveled to Yemen via Oman in 2011 and had weapons training in the deserts of Marib, an AQAP stronghold. A high-ranking Yemeni intelligence official told Al Jazeera that Saïd Kouachi fought alongside Al-Qaeda during a 2011 stay in Yemen and was later deported from the country.

Washington considers AQAP one of Al-Qaeda's most dangerous offshoots. Formed in 2009 in a merger of the group's Yemeni and Saudi branches, AQAP has been blamed for a string of unsuccessful bomb plots against U.S. 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 an attempt a year later to send mail bombs hidden in toner cartridges on planes bound for the U.S. from the Gulf.

Another armed group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has been linked to the attacks in Paris. Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who targeted the grocery store, pledged allegiance to ISIL in a seven-minute video posted by the group Sunday. The group, which has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, became the target last year of a bombing campaign by a coalition that includes France.

In the absence of clear evidence linking AQAP or ISIL to the planning or execution of the Paris attacks, counterterrorism experts believe that the Paris gunmen may have been inspired by one or both groups rather than directly sponsored by them.

Al Jazeera with wire services


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