Suspect sought in Charlie Hebdo attack had trained in Yemen: Sources
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
A call for witnesses released by the Paris Prefecture de Police shows the photos of two brothers who are actively being sought for questioning in the shooting at the Paris offices. REUTERS PhotoOne of two brothers suspected of carrying out the deadly shooting at a French satirical weekly visited Yemen in 2011 to train with al-Qaeda-affiliated militants, U.S. and European sources close to the investigation said on Jan. 8.
The sources said Said Kouachi, 34, was in Yemen for a number of months training with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the group's most active affiliates.
He and his brother Cherif, 32, are the subject of a manhunt in France following the killing of 12 people by Islamist gunmen at the offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan. 7.
The two suspects are French-born sons of Algerian-born parents. Both men had been under police surveillance. Cherif was jailed for 18 months for trying to travel to Iraq a decade ago to fight as part of an Islamist cell.
A Yemeni official familiar with the matter said the government was aware of the possibility of a connection between Said Kouachi and AQAP, and was looking into possible links.
The sources said that after Said Kouachi returned to France from Yemen, both brothers appeared to have refrained from any activities that might have drawn the attention of French law enforcement or spy agencies.
They also said that in the months leading up to Wednesday's attack, the men were not treated as priority targets by French counter-terrorism agencies.
U.S. government sources said both Said and Cherif Kouachi were listed in two U.S. security databases - a highly-classified database, containing information on 1.2 million possible counter-terrorism suspects, called TIDE, and the much smaller "no fly" list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, an interagency unit.
ABC News reported that the brothers had been listed in the databases for "years." Dave Joly, a spokesman for the Terrorist Screening Center, said he could neither confirm nor deny whether the Kouachis were listed in counter-terrorism databases.
"Disclosure of an individual's inclusion or non-inclusion in the TSDB (screening databases) would significantly impair the government's ability to investigate and counteract terrorism," Joly said.
At the time Said Kouachi went to Yemen, one of AQAP's top inspirational and organizational leaders was Anwar al Awlaki, a U.S.-born preacher prominent in spreading the group's militant message to European and English-speaking audiences. It is not known if Said Kouachi had any contact with Awlaki, who was killed in September 2011 in a drone strike widely attributed to the CIA.
Some investigators believe Awlaki's death could have contributed to the brothers' decision to lie low, but other investigators say that it was too early to reach such a conclusion. Investigators are trying to establish the significance, if any, of the brothers' links with AQAP or any other radical Islamist group.
One of those killed in the Paris attack was Charlie Hebdo's top editor, Stephane Charbonnier, who drew cartoons under the rubric "Charb."
Last spring, "Inspire," an English-language online magazine published by AQAP, featured a "Wanted dead or alive" graphic which included Charbonnier's name and photograph. There was no immediate evidence that the graphic actually inspired the Paris attack.
Obama visits French embassy
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to the French Embassy in Washington on Jan. 8 to pay his respects and express solidarity with the French people.
Shortly after returning from a trip to Phoenix, Obama rode in his motorcade to the embassy to sign a condolences book. He was joined there by the French ambassador, Gerard Araud.
Obama wrote in the book that he extended U.S. sympathy and solidarity to the French people following Wednesday's attack at the Charlie Hebdo weekly in which 12 people were killed.
"As allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended. We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for - ideals that light the world," he wrote.
On Air Force One earlier, Obama got an update via conference call from his national security advisers on the Paris shootings. He also heard about security issues facing Americans in the United States and around the world, the White House said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that U.S. officials have said there is no indication of a specific threat to Americans related to the Paris shootings.