Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility Wednesday for last week’s deadly rampage at France’s Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper — and said the attack was years in the making.
AQAP commander Nasr Ibn Ali al-Ansi made the claim in a video, with pictures of the two gunmen — Said and Cherif Kouachi — in the background.
“When the heroes were assigned, they accepted. They promised and fulfilled,” al-Ansi said.
He praised that attack, saying it was revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.
And according to the video, the late Anwar al-Awlaki masterminded the attack before his death in 2011. If true, that means the planning for the massacre started at least three years ago.
The AQAP leader did not claim responsibility for Friday’s siege at a kosher grocery store in Paris, which left four hostages dead.
But “it was a blessing from Allah” that the two attacks took place about the same time, al-Ansi said.
Al-Ansi blamed not only Charlie Hebdo, but also France and the United States in his statement.
“It is France that has shared all of America’s crimes,” al-Ansi added. “It is France that has committed crimes in Mali and the Islamic Maghreb. It is France that supports the annihilation of Muslims in Central Africa in the name of race cleansing.”
A week of grief
One week ago Wednesday, the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo was shattered in a gruesome attack that killed 12 people and launched three days of terror in France.
The grief and cries for free speech reverberated around the world. So did questions about whether the newspaper should provocatively depict Mohammed, an act many Muslims deem offensive.
But that’s exactly what surviving staff members of Charlie Hebdo did — selling its latest edition Wednesday with an image of a crying Prophet Mohammed.
“All is forgiven,” the cover reads.
Such words could be cathartic for both sides of the debate. But freedom of speech in France apparently has its limits.
French comedian arrested
Controversial French humorist and actor Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, better known as simply Dieudonne, was arrested in Paris, accused of publicly supporting terrorism, multiple French media reported.
One Facebook post read: “You should know tonight that as far as I am concerned I am Charlie Coulibaly” — an apparent reference to Amedy Coulibaly, the man who killed four hostages at a Parisian kosher grocery store Friday.
Coulibaly has also been linked to brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Dieudonne’s Facebook post has been removed.
This isn’t the first time Dieudonne has stirred controversy. He has been fined several times in France for anti-Semitic commentary. Last year, the French government said it wanted to ban his live performances.
On Monday, Dieudonne issued a statement with his stance on the terror attacks.
“Yesterday we all were Charlie. We all walked and stood up for freedoms to be allowed to laugh at everything,” he wrote in a letter to the French interior minister.
“Yet when I came back home, I felt all alone. … Since the beginning of last year, I have been treated as public enemy number one, when all I try to do is make people laugh, and laugh about death, because death laughs at us all, as Charlie knows now, unfortunately.”
He added that “I am looked upon as if I were Amedy Coulibaly, when I am no different from Charlie.”
With France on his highest level of alert, it has deployed 10,000 troops across the country. Thousands of police officers have also been deployed, including hundreds assigned to protect Jewish schools.
Although authorities killed the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly, the hunt is still on for Coulibaly’s widow, Hayat Boumeddiene, who may have played a role in the attacks.
And a Frenchman arrested in Bulgaria could provide further clues.
Fritz-Joly Joachin was arrested near the border with Turkey for allegedly kidnapping his son, Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Betina Joteva said.
The ministry said that Joachin will remain in custody until at least January 20, when a “court will consider (a) second warrant related to terrorism charges.”
Prosecutors said the terrorism charge is regarding Joachin’s contacts with the Kouachi brothers, the AFP news agency reported.
“The charges are for participation in an organized crime group whose aim was … terrorist acts,” Bulgarian public prosecutor Darina Slavova said.
It’s not clear what Joachin’s contact with the Kouachi brothers entailed.
Charlie Hebdo sales soar
Even before the latest Charlie Hebdo issue hit newsstands Wednesday, it had sold out at market kiosks along the iconic Champs Elysees. Some had reserved early issues in advance.
Charlie Hebdo’s press run increased fifty-fold from its usual 60,000 copies to 3 million. Parisians lined up in droves at newsstands before dawn, waiting to get a copy.
And as the new cover spread across social media with another image of Mohammed, Muslims responded with a mix of emotions, from wariness to appreciation, from miffed to dismissive.
Yahya Adel Ibrahim, an imam in Australia, counseled his 100,000 Facebook followers to follow the example of Mohammed, even if they encounter images that they believe are blasphemous.
“As it is clear that the cartoons are to be published again, Muslims will inevitably be hurt and angered, but our reaction must be a reflection of the teachings of the one we love & are angered for,” Ibrahim said. “Enduring patience, tolerance, gentleness and mercy was the character of our beloved Prophet.”