Cherif Kouachi, one of two gunmen who massacred 12 people, including journalists working for French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, had been arrested once before for attempting `jihad’ against American forces in 2005, an investigation by the New York Times has revealed.
The then 22-year-old pizza delivery man was picked up hours before boarding an Alitalia flight in January, 2005.
But the story of Cherif, who transformed himself from a jihadi intern to a cold-blooded assassin, is even more remarkable when you hear that French counter-terrorism experts were on his tail almost all the time.
“The 10-year evolution from easily spooked amateur to hardened killer is a story of steadily deepening radicalism that occurred virtually under the noses of French authorities, who twice had Chérif in their grasp,” says the NYT in the detailed report.
The NYT says it obtained thousands of pages of legal documents including minutes of interrogations, summaries of phone taps, intercepted jailhouse letters and a catalogue of images and religious texts found on the laptops of Chérif Kouachi and one Mr. Coulibaly, a one-time petty criminal who served time for armed robbery.
“All this revealed an arc of radicalization that saw them become steadily more professional and more discreet,” the article says.
Coulibaly was the other terrorist who wounded a city employee, killed a police officer and later stormed into a super market, killed four people and took hostages. He too was killed when the police raided the supermarket. The operations were synchronised and the authorities seemed to have smelt the plot.
Why did the authorities not stay on their case? Apparently, after at least one of the Kouachis traveled to Yemen in 2011, the United States alerted French authorities. But three years of tailing the brothers yielded nothing, and an oversight commission ruled that the surveillance was no longer productive, Louis Caprioli, the deputy head of France’s domestic antiterrorism unit from 1998 to 2004 told the NYT.
In the hours before the brothers died in a gunfight with the police, Chérif nonchalantly took a telephone call from a reporter to make sure the world knew they were carrying out the attack on behalf of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.
In a final diabolical twist, the whole Paris operation was seemingly financed by a bank loan, of 6,000 Euros raised via Mr Coulibaly.
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