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Case Study: Jihadi Active Shooter in Paris

Written by Richard Marqusie.

Case Study Jihad

On Wednesday, January 7, 2015, two masked men, dressed in black, carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and wearing body armor, entered a Paris business office around 11:15 a.m. After initially entering the wrong door, the men forced one of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical magazine, to let them into that office. A police officer was on duty, serving as a bodyguard for the magazine’s editor because of death threats. As the gunmen entered the offices, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is great), they entered an ongoing editorial staff meeting. They shot and killed police officer Franck Brinsolaro and others. 1 Some reports say the gunmen called cartoonists by name and then executed them. A survivor said, “These were no amateurs.” Another said, “They were dressed like soldiers.”2 Eleven people were killed in a five-minute attack. 3

Editorial meetings were only held on Wednesdays from 10-12. It appears likely the gunmen had either conducted premission surveillance or obtained inside information as they attacked on the day and at the time of the weekly meeting. Many of the staff did not routinely work at that office. 4

As the gunmen retreated, passersby heard them say, “Tell the media we are from al-Qaeda in Yemen.”5 Others nearby, attracted by the shots, began videoing the activities of the men on their cell phones. These videos captured not only the gunmen’s attempt to escape but another brutal murder and cameras rolled as the gunmen reloaded their weapons outside the Charlie Hebdo offices. One walked around the car, shouting three times, “We avenged the prophet Mohammed.” As they attempted to drive off, they encountered a police car on the narrow street. Both vehicles stopped and the gunmen got out of their car and fired at the police car. Officers in that car backed their car to the end of the street in an apparent attempt to get out of the line of fire. The gunmen drove off, encountering Officer Ahmed Merabet arriving on a bicycle, and shot him. Video shows him lying injured on a sidewalk. One of the gunmen walked up to him and allegedly said, “Do you want to kill me?” Merabet, hands raised in surrender, replied, “No, it is OK, chief” (or mate). One of the gunmen shot him in the head with his AK, killing him instantly.6

The men drove off and crashed into another car less than two miles from the Charlie Hebdo office. They carjacked another vehicle and disappeared. When police searched the abandoned vehicle, they found a national identity card belonging to a Said Kouachi. Kouachi was a thirty-four-year-old French-born man of Algerian descent. Said Kouachi was reportedly not as well known to law enforcement agencies as his younger brother Cherif, age thirty-two. 7, 8

While investigators were attempting to identify and locate the shooters, a jogger was shot early Wednesday evening in Fontenay-aux-Roses, a suburb located five miles southwest of the center of Paris. Police did not immediately tie this attack to the one at Charlie Hebdo. Ballistic tests later made that connection.9

At 8:30 p.m., French officials released the names of three suspects. They were the two Kouachi brothers and eighteen-year-old Hamyd Mourad, Said’s brother-in-law. Law enforcement officials in France and neighboring countries began looking for the three. There were several false reports of arrests during the evening hours, but around 11:00 pm, Mourad surrendered after hearing his name on the news. He would later be exonerated from involvement in the Charlie Hebdo attack. 10

Just after 8:00 a.m. Thursday morning, an unarmed police officer, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, responded to what she thought was a traffic incident. She was shot and killed, and a city employee was wounded, during a confrontation with a man who was described as being of “African origin.” The man was said to be wearing body armor and carrying several guns. Officer Jean-Philippe had been on the job for two weeks. 11, 12

Around 10:30 a.m., a gas station was robbed in Villers-Cotterets, a village ninety minutes north of Paris. Two men, reportedly armed with Kalashnikovs and a rocket propelled grenade launcher, had stolen food and gasoline. Law enforcement officers flooded the area and began a search. Throughout the day, reporters speculated whether suspects had been arrested. 13

At 9:30 Friday morning, media reported that the Kouachi brothers had taken a hostage at a print shop and were surrounded by police in Dammartin-en-Goele, a town nineteen miles northeast of Paris and not far from Charles de Gaulle Airport. Local schools were locked down. 14

Shortly after noon, a lone gunman entered a kosher market, Hyper Cacher, at Ponte de Vincennes. The store was about twenty-five miles from where the Kouachi brothers were engaged in a standoff with police. The gunman killed four people and took what he thought were sixteen hostages. He did not realize others had escaped the main market and were hiding in a refrigerator. At 12:45 p.m., the media reported that the suspect in the shooting of Officer Jean-Philippe was connected to the brothers involved in the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Police identified this gunman as Amedy Coulibaly. 15 At 3:00 p.m., photographs of Coulibaly, thirty-two, and his common-law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, twenty-six, were released as suspects in the murder of Jean-Philippe and the takeover of the kosher market. 16

While the brothers were in the print shop, reporters conducted a telephone interview with Cherif Kouachi. He said he was sent by “Yemen’s al-Qaeda.” He also said he was financed by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born cleric killed by an American UAV strike in Yemen in 2011. He stated, “We are the defenders of the prophet, we don’t kill women…. If someone offends the prophet then there is no problem, we can kill him…. We have an honor code in Islam.” 17

That same afternoon, Coulibaly gave an interview from the kosher market. He said he had synchronized his actions with the Kouachi brothers who killed twelve people at Charlie Hebdo. He said, “They started with Charlie Hebdo and I started with the police.” 18

One hostage was reported to have seen Coulibaly filming the scene in the market with a GoPro camera. He allegedly took out the memory card and inserted it into a laptop and appeared to edit the images. It has been reported that he emailed his video(s) out. He also took time to pray. 19

Around 5:00 in the afternoon, gunshots and explosions were heard at the print shop where the two brothers were holed up with a hostage. A police assault on the shop commenced at about 5:10 p.m. Both brothers were killed and the hostage rescued. 20

At 5:15 p.m., the police assaulted the kosher market where Coulibaly had barricaded himself and his hostages. The hostages were rescued and Coulibaly was killed by French police in a firefight. His common-law wife, Boumeddiene, was not located in the market and there were initial fears that she had escaped. 21

Ballistic tests on the weapons found at the market linked a Russian Tokarev pistol (7.62x25 mm) to the shooting of the jogger at Fontenay-aux-Roses on the previous Wednesday evening. The standoffs were over and information about the gunmen and their motives was becoming more clear. 22

Cherif and Said Kouachi were born in France to Algerian parents. Their parents died when they were twelve and fourteen years old respectively. They seemed to prosper and moved to Paris around 2000. They played soccer and Cherif took a job as a pizza delivery man. In about 2003, the brothers began to attend the Adda’wa mosque (since demolished) in Paris. Some have reported that it was frequented by radical preachers. There the brothers met Farid Benyettou, an Algerian immigrant. Benyettou began to teach many young men who would later be referred to as the “Buttes-Chaumont” group after the park where they met and trained. They would normally discuss current events and several of those who participated later fought in Iraq with terrorist groups; some were killed in Iraq. Cherif and Said also began to ask Benyettou questions about whether suicide bombings were permitted. 23

In 2004, Cherif, then twenty-two, allegedly angered by mistreatment he had read about occurring at the Abu Ghurab prison in Iraq, made plans to travel there. Just before he boarded his plane, he was arrested by French lLEAs. He later said he was “relieved” and he did not “want to die there.” 24

Cherif was detained for twenty months before trial. He was housed at the Fleury-Merogis prison, which has been described as the perfect setting for radicalization. 25 While there, he was exposed to radical Islamic teachings and hardened criminals. He met Djamel Beghal, a man who has been described as one who could convince people to adhere to radical Islam. Beghal had worked with Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan and had been convicted in 2001 of a plot to bomb the United States Embassy in Paris. Another inmate who may have fallen under Beghal’s spell was Amedy Coulibaly. Coulibaly was born in France to Malian immigrants. He was a convicted armed robber and he likely met Cherif Kouachi during Cherif’s incarceration there. Cherif was released before his trial in 2006 but was convicted in 2008 for attempting to travel to Iraq to fight. He was sentenced to time served and released. Cherif married soon after and took his new wife on a pilgrimage to Mecca for their honeymoon. 26

There is much less documented information about Cherif’s older brother, Said. He had a couple of government jobs but did not have the prison record or criminal contacts of his brother. By 2009, Beghal and Coulibaly had been released from prison. However, Beghal was still believed to be dangerous and was placed under strict “house arrest” and surveillance by French authorities. Cherif and Coulibaly continued to contact Beghal and were overheard on French wiretaps speaking in code to each other. Beghal began to communicate with another French prisoner, Smain Ait Ali Beckacem, an Algerian terrorist associated with the GIA, who was serving time for his role in a 1995 bombing campaign in Paris. Based on intercepted telephone calls, the police assessed that the group was planning to break Beckacem from prison. 27

Beghal, Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi were arrested, convicted and returned to prison. A judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict Cherif, and he was released. Coulibaly (convicted in 2013) was sentenced to five years in prison, but he was released in March 2014, despite his lengthy criminal record. Although Cherif Kouachi was not convicted in this case, his computer, which had been seized at the time of his arrest, contained a document entitled “Operation Sacrifice.” This document seemed to foretell the events of January 7, 2015. The document read, in part, “The mujahideen forces his way into … a zone where there is a group and fires at point blank range without having prepared an escape plan …. The author will very likely die himself.” 28

Sometime in 2011, one of the Kouachi brothers traveled to Yemen to receive training and financing. LEAs initially believed it was Said Kouachi who went. However, based on interviews with Said’s wife and Cherif’s own words, it appears it was Cherif Kouachi who traveled to Yemen using his brother’s passport. During the standoff at the print shop, Cherif told the reporter who interviewed him that he went to Yemen and met with Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda figure that Ft. Hood terrorist Nidal Hassan was communicating with, allegedly provided him direction and some funding to carry out an operation. 29

The Paris attacks have raised a number of issues for counterterrorism officials. Cherif Kouachi and Coulibaly were well known to French LEAs, but were not under surveillance, allegedly due to manpower shortages. Policemen were outgunned during the attacks. The policewoman who was killed was unarmed. On January 19, 2015, French law enforcement officers demanded more appropriate weapons and training, better protective gear, and a bolstered intelligence apparatus. One official noted that Officer Merabet did not “have the backup he needed and the psychology to face a paramilitary assault.” It is also unknown if the French government will reconsider gun laws that inhibit citizen self-defense. 30

The French Prime Minister announced on January 21st that there are over 3,000 individuals in France who have been identified as having “jihadist ties.” He suggested these individuals should be under some form of surveillance and that the number of people in France tied to terror networks in Syria and Iraq had jumped by 130 percent in one year. He also said that Coulibaly had been detained by police on December 30, 2014. A brief background check on him indicated he was “dangerous” and part of an Islamic group. Officers who encountered him had been asked to collect information about him without arousing his suspicion. The officer(s) who stopped him notified anti-terrorism police, who never responded to their query. The officer(s) then let him go. 31

A week after the attacks in France, Belgian LEAs broke up a suspected plot to attack police stations and kill police officers. Belgian authorities had apparently been tracking a cell, possibly connected to the Islamic State, for some time as they had wiretaps in place. The police killed two suspects in raids and seized liquid explosives. The Belgians did not know the specific target of their anticipated attacks. These raids were conducted as others were being carried out across Europe. Before the week was out, dozens of people had been arrested across Europe, including thirteen in Belgium, twelve in Germany, two more in France, and single arrests in Greece and England. 32

The French attacks and the subsequent police raids in Belgium had been preceded by an attack on a Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014, by a French national of Algerian origin. The attacker killed four and, when arrested, admitted responsibility for the attack. He had spent a year in Syria and when he was arrested he was in possession of a Kalashnikov rifle, a pistol, and a white sheet with markings of the terror group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS), also known as the Islamic State. 33

While the investigations into the French attacks are still ongoing, there are numerous details that still need to be uncovered. Shortly after the attacks, a man in Belgium came forward and said he had provided the weapons to Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers. The cost was allegedly less than $6,000. 34

The Kouachi brothers stated their attack was funded and ordered by al-Qaeda in Yemen, better known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). An AQAP spokesman took credit for the Charlie Hebdo attack and said the order for it came from the leadership of al-Qaeda. 35

The individual who released the “martyrdom video” of Coulibaly two days after he was killed at the market needs to be identified. This video showed Coulibaly wearing a white robe with a rifle resting against a wall and an Islamic banner behind him. The video seems to have been made between shooting the police woman on Thursday morning and the takeover of the Jewish market at midday Friday. He supposedly said “The brothers of our team were split into two groups…. I went a bit against the police…. If we did things a bit together and a bit separately, it was to have more impact.” He also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on the video. 36 It is possible Coulibaly made the film while at the market, based on the observations of one witness.

The Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly knew each other, but it is not certain that the attacks were synchronized. There was no known communication between the brothers and Coulibaly during the attacks, even though investigators found about 500 phone conversations between Coulibaly, his common-law wife, and the Kouachi brothers before the attacks. 37 However, investigators did discover that Hayat Boumeddiene, Coulibaly’s common-law wife, had left France. Video of her arriving in Istanbul on January second, five days before the Charlie Hebdo attacks, was recovered by LEOs there. Officials in Turkey say she crossed the border into Syria on the eighth of January. 38

The brothers claimed their attack on behalf of AQAP and an AQAP spokesman also claimed credit. Coulibaly claimed credit for the Islamic State. If the attacks were linked together and affiliated with a sponsor, would not one or the other group claim credit? These two groups compete for prestige in the jihadi world.

Most Western countries, including the United States, have enemies among us. Some of our citizens are disaffected, and we have others who have come here as visitors or immigrants who may want to do us harm. Some of them have been identified and others have not. In France, they knew who these men were yet did not expel them or monitor what they were doing.

Sharing information with and among law enforcement agencies are just pieces of the solution to preventing terrorist attacks. Community partnerships are as important in Paris, Texas, as they are in Paris, France. Law enforcement officers must develop the relationships necessary to ensure they receive support from the communities they serve. Building trust with the people you serve is the best way you can ensure you know what is happening in your community. People report information to those they respect and trust to take action.

1 “French Police Say Suspect in Attack Evolved From Petty Criminal to Terrorist,” by Higgins, Andrew , New York Times, 1/10/15
2 “Cherif and Said Kouachi’s Path to Paris Attack at Charlie Hebdo,” by Rukmini Callimachi and Jim Yardley, New York Times, 1/17/15
3 "One Victim Killed in Charlie Hebdo Attacks was Muslim Police Officer, Ahmed Merabet,", by Lamiat Sabin, The Independent, 1/8/15
4 “Inside Look at how the Paris Attack Unfolded,” by Jabeen Bhatti and Angela Waters, USA Today, 1/8/15
5 Callimachi, op cit
6 Lamiat Sabin, op cit
7 “Tracking the Aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo Attack,” by Wilson Andrews et al, The New York Times, 1/9/15
8 “Paris Attacks: ID card left in car put police on trail of brothers.” By Ruadhan Mac Cormaic, Irish Times, 1/8/15
9 “French Attacker Coulibaly Linked to Shooting of Jogger,” by AFP, Business Insider, 1/11/15
10 “Three Days of Madness: A Timeline of the Charlie Hebdo Attacks,” by Jeremy Stahl, Slate, 1/9/15
11 “Police Officer Shot Dead Outside Paris, Suspect at Large: Police,” RT News, 1/8/15
12 “ Policewoman Shot Dead Two Weeks into Job,” Sky News, 1/9/15
13 Stahl, op cit
14 Ibid
15 “In a Kosher Grocery Store in Paris, Terror Takes a Deadly Toll,” by Griff Witte, Washington Post, 1/9/15
16 Stahl, op cit
17 “Paris Killer Cherif Kouachi gave Interview to TV Channel Before He Died,” by Emmanuelle Saliba, NBC News, 1/9/15
18 Andrews, et al, op cit
19 Callimachi, op cit
20 Stahl, op cit
21 Ibid
22 AFP (FN #7), op cit
23 Callimachi, op cit
24 24. Ibid
25 “French Prisons Prove to be Effective Incubators for Islamic Extremism,” by National Public Radio, All Things Considered, 1/22/15
26 Callimachi, op cit
27 Ibid
28 Ibid
29 Ibid
30 “To Counter Terror, Europe’s Police Reconsider Their Arms,” by the Associated Press, 1/9/15
31 “French Police Get Stronger Firepower, Counter Terror Forces,” by Hana Levi Julian, 1/21/15
32 “20 Terror Suspects Arrested in Massive Ops Across Belgium, France and Germany,”, 1/17/15
33 “Brussels Museum Killings: Suspect Admitted Attack,” BBC News, 6/1/14
34 “Arms Dealer Confesses to, Providing Paris Terrorists’ Guns,” by Steve Kornachi, 1/14/15
35 Ibid
36 “Amedy Coulibaly ‘Martyrdom’ Video Released Online, Paris Attacker Claims Allegiance to Islamic State,” by Mark Hanrahan, International Business Times, 1/11/15
37 “Charlie Hebdo: Officials establish link between gunmen in both attacks—as it happened,” by Matthew Weaver et al, The Guardian, 1/9/15
38 “Video: Hayat Boumeddiene arriving in Turkey,” by staff writer, Al Arabiya News, Al Arabiya News, 1/12/15