Chérif Kouachi

Chérif Kouachi was a French citizen of Algerian origin and one of two brothers who carried out the January 2015 attack against the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.Harriet Alexander, “How did the Paris terrorists get hold of their weapons?” Daily Telegraph (London), January 17, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11351855/How-did-the-Paris-terrorists-get-hold-of-their-weapons.html. According to Yemeni intelligence, both brothers had trained alongside al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in mid-2011 in Yemen, where they met Anwar al-Awlaki, the AQAP cleric killed by a U.S. drone strike in September of that year.“Kouachi brothers had weapons training in Yemen,” Al Jazeera America, January 11, 2015, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/1/11/kouachi-france.html.

On the morning of January 7, 2015, Kouachi and his older brother Saïd Kouachi forcibly entered the Charlie Hebdo office armed with assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, and a rocket launcher.Harriet Alexander, “How did the Paris terrorists get hold of their weapons?” Daily Telegraph (London), January 17, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11351855/How-did-the-Paris-terrorists-get-hold-of-their-weapons.html. Within 10 minutes, they murdered 11 people, six of whom were cartoonists.“Charlie Hebdo attack: Three days of terror,” BBC News, January 14, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30708237. While fleeing the premises, the brothers shouted that they had carried out the attack on behalf of AQAP.Mohammed Ghobari, “Exclusive: Paris attack suspect met prominent al Qaeda preacher in Yemen – intelligence source,” Reuters, January 9, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-yemen-idUSKBN0KI0PW20150109. The pair killed another police officer outside on the street, but managed to evade capture for two days. On January 9, French police confronted and killed both brothers in a shootout in Dammartin-en-Goële, 22 miles northeast of Paris.“Charlie Hebdo hunt: Bloody end to sieges,” BBC News, January 10, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30752239.

According to former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, the Kouachi brothers targeted Charlie Hebdo because the magazine had depicted and published cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Their motive was “absolutely clear,” said Morell, who added that the brothers were “trying to shut down a media organization that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad.”Dan Bilefsky and Maïa de la Baume, “Terrorists Strike Charlie Hebdo Newspaper, Leaving 12 Dead,” New York Times, January 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/europe/charlie-hebdo-paris-shooting.html?_r=1.

The Kouachi brothers, of Algerian descent, grew up in France. Their father died during the brothers’ early teenage years. Their mother sent them to a state school for special-needs children because she was unable to care for them. The Kouachis’ mother died before they completed school and they did not proceed to university. The brothers moved to Paris’s 19th arrondisement, a neighborhood known for its large and poor immigrant population.Scott Bronstein, “Cherif and Said Kouachi: Their path to terror,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/kouachi-brothers-radicalization/index.html.

Chérif was known to French authorities one decade before the Charlie Hebdo massacre. In the 19th arrondisement, the brothers attended Adda’wa mosque, a.k.a. La Mosquee de Stalingrad, with French Islamist cleric Farid Benyettou. Chérif would later tell a French court that Benyettou first introduced him to the concept of jihad and encouraged him to go fight in Iraq. Chérif claimed that he committed to the idea of jihad during Ramadan in 2004 and told friends he was going to go fight in Syria.Scott Bronstein, “Terror suspect Cherif Kouachi: ‘I was ready to go and die in battle,’” CNN, January 10, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/cherif-kouachi-court-documents/index.html. Benyettou allegedly taught Chérif how to use a Kalashnikov rifle and other weapons.Scott Bronstein, “Terror suspect Cherif Kouachi: ‘I was ready to go and die in battle,’” CNN, January 10, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/cherif-kouachi-court-documents/index.html. Chérif was arrested and detained in 2005 for his connection to a terror cell that recruited young French Muslims to join al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Chérif was reportedly arrested before he was able to travel to Iraq via Syria in order to fight alongside AQI’s founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.Andrew Higgins and Maïa de la Baume, “Two Brothers Suspected in Killing Were Known to French Intelligence Services,” New York Times, January 8, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/two-brothers-suspected-in-killings-were-known-to-french-intelligence-services.html?_r=0. According to Chérif’s accomplices at the time of his arrest, Chérif was “ready to firebomb and to destroy Jewish shops in Paris.”Scott Bronstein, “Terror suspect Cherif Kouachi: ‘I was ready to go and die in battle,’” CNN, January 10, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/cherif-kouachi-court-documents/index.html. He later admitted to anti-Semitic thoughts to French authorities but denied that he would take such action.Scott Bronstein, “Terror suspect Cherif Kouachi: ‘I was ready to go and die in battle,’” CNN, January 10, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/cherif-kouachi-court-documents/index.html. In a 2007 deposition in French court, Chérif said that he was ready to “die in battle” to avenge “the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.”Scott Bronstein, “Cherif and Said Kouachi: Their path to terror,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/kouachi-brothers-radicalization/index.html. French prosecutors eventually convicted Chérif in 2008 and sentenced him to three years in prison.Andrew Higgins and Maïa de la Baume, “Two Brothers Suspected in Killing Were Known to French Intelligence Services,” New York Times, January 8, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/two-brothers-suspected-in-killings-were-known-to-french-intelligence-services.html?_r=0. He was immediately released, however, having already served three years in pre-trial detention.Andrew Higgins and Maïa de la Baume, “Two Brothers Suspected in Killing Were Known to French Intelligence Services,” New York Times, January 8, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/two-brothers-suspected-in-killings-were-known-to-french-intelligence-services.html?_r=0.

While Chérif was prison, he reportedly came in contact with other jihadists who furthered his radicalization, including Djamel Beghal, an al-Qaeda recruiter of Algerian descent who had plotted to attack the U.S. embassy in Paris in 2001.Scott Bronstein, “Cherif and Said Kouachi: Their path to terror,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/kouachi-brothers-radicalization/index.html. Beghal reportedly became a mentor to Chérif in prison. While in prison Chérif also met Amedy Coulibaly.Scott Bronstein, “Cherif and Said Kouachi: Their path to terror,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/kouachi-brothers-radicalization/index.html.

After Beghal’s release from prison in 2009, Chérif and Coulibaly continued to visit him.Scott Bronstein, “Cherif and Said Kouachi: Their path to terror,” CNN, January 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/kouachi-brothers-radicalization/index.html. During their meetings, Beghal, Coulibaly, and the Kouachi brothers reportedly plotted to break Smain Ali Belkacem—convicted for the 1995 Paris metro bombing—out of prison.Carol Kuruvilla and Jaweed Kaleem, “Amedy Coulibaly, Paris Kosher Market Terrorist, Had History Of Ties To Violence,” Huffington Post, January 10, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/09/amedy-coulibaly-paris-kosher-market_n_6444418.html; “Paris attacks: Suspects’ profiles,” BBC News, January 12, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30722038. Police monitoring the group arrested the men in May 2010 before they could carry out the prison break.Greg Botelho and Ray Sanchez, “France: Raids kill 3 suspects, including 2 wanted in Charlie Hebdo attack,” CNN, January 21, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/charlie-hebdo-paris-shooting/. The Kouachi brothers were implicated in the plot, but were not charged due to lack of evidence.Carol Kuruvilla and Jaweed Kaleem, “Amedy Coulibaly, Paris Kosher Market Terrorist, Had History Of Ties To Violence,” Huffington Post, January 10, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/09/amedy-coulibaly-paris-kosher-market_n_6444418.html.

Both Chérif and his brother are reported to have had contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. According to an unnamed Yemeni security official, at some point between late July and early August 2011, the brothers traveled to Yemen where they received training from AQAP and met with Awlaki.“Kouachi brothers had weapons training in Yemen,” Al Jazeera America, January 11, 2015, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/1/11/kouachi-france.html. On January 9, 2015, during the final siege in Dammartin-en-Goële, Chérif told French media over a phone call interview that his trip to Yemen had been financed by Awlaki.“Charlie Hebdo shooter says financed by Qaeda preacher in Yemen,” Reuters, January 9, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-yemen-finance-idUSKBN0KI1Y320150109.

The Kouachi brothers’ attack on Chalie Hebdo was also linked to Coulibaly’s January 9, 2015, attack on Paris’s Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket.Griff Witte, “In a kosher grocery store in Paris, terror takes a deadly toll,” Washington Post, January 9,2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/paris-kosher-market-seized-in-second-hostage-drama-in-nervous-france/2015/01/09/f171b97e-97ff-11e4-8005-1924ede3e54a_story.html?utm_term=.2d7aacfbb438; Angus Berwick, “Spanish police arrest man suspected of arming Paris supermarket gunman,” Reuters, April 13, 2016, http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKCN0XA1JA?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0. Coulibaly took 16 occupants hostage, and reportedly demanded that police allow the Kouachi brothers to escape their hideout in Dammartin.Griff Witte, “In a kosher grocery store in Paris, terror takes a deadly toll,” Washington Post, January 9,2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/paris-kosher-market-seized-in-second-hostage-drama-in-nervous-france/2015/01/09/f171b97e-97ff-11e4-8005-1924ede3e54a_story.html?utm_term=.2d7aacfbb438; John Lichfield, “Paris attackers interview with French TV station: ‘We are defenders of the Prophet… We took vengeance’, said Charlie Hebdo killer Cherif Kouachi,” Independent (London), January 10, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attackers-gave-interview-to-french-tv-station-we-are-defenders-of-the-prophet-we-took-9969749.html; Ricky Ben-David, “4 dead as French forces storm kosher supermarket, kill gunman; Charlie Hebdo terrorist brothers also killed,” Times of Israel, January 10, 2015, http://www.timesofisrael.com/terror-onslaught-in-paris/. Coulibaly claimed in a phone interview that he had “coordinated [with the Kouachi brothers] from the beginning.”Griff Witte, “In a kosher grocery store in Paris, terror takes a deadly toll,” Washington Post, January 9,2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/paris-kosher-market-seized-in-second-hostage-drama-in-nervous-france/2015/01/09/f171b97e-97ff-11e4-8005-1924ede3e54a_story.html?utm_term=.2d7aacfbb438; “Paris gunman appears in video, declares loyalty to Islamic State,” Reuters, January 11, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-video-gunman-idUSKBN0KK0BL20150111; John Lichfield, “Paris attackers interview with French TV station: ‘We are defenders of the Prophet… We took vengeance’, said Charlie Hebdo killer Cherif Kouachi,” Independent (London), January 10, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attackers-gave-interview-to-french-tv-station-we-are-defenders-of-the-prophet-we-took-9969749.html. On January 10, a video was distributed online in which Coulibaly claimed to have synchronized his attacks with the Kouachi brothers.Fidelma Cook, Lucy Crossley, Tom Kelly, and Claire Duffin, “Hebdo killers in ISIS martyrdom video – as French police discover his massive arms cache and link him to another shooting two days earlier,” Daily Mail (London), January 11, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2905302/Calm-stare-Jewish-deli-terrorist-Jihadist-s-ISIS-suicide-video-emerges-confirms-link-Charlie-Hebdo-killers-calls-fellow-vigorous-Muslims-defend-prophet-Mohammed.html.

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