Islamist suspected of helping organise 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack handed terror charges

Rory Mulholland
Peter Cherif was named in the enquiry into the attack on satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo - AFP

A radical Islamist suspected of helping organise the deadly 2015 attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has been handed preliminary terrorism charges after being extradited from Djibouti to France.

Peter Cherif, also known by the pseudonym Abu Hamza, was a close friend of the two Kouachi brothers who killed 11 people at the magazine's Paris offices and a police officer nearby.

Mr Cherif, who was arrested a week ago in Djibouti, was taken into custody and charged upon his arrival on Sunday morning at Charles de Gaulle airport.

The minister for the armed forces, Florence Parly, on Friday said that his arrest was "very good news because this terrorist played an important role in organising the Charlie Hebdo attack."

Mr Cherif was linked to a Paris jihadist cell and was named in the enquiry into the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 over his regular contact with the perpetrators Said and Cherif Kouachi.

But he has not been indicted in connection with that attack. The preliminary charges against him are those of criminal association with a terrorist enterprise.

Cherif was arrested by police in Djibouti in December  Credit: HOUSSEIN HERSI/AFP/Getty Images

Mr Cherif was first arrested in Iraq in 2004 when he was fighting in the ranks of Al Qaeda. He was sentenced to 15 years in a Baghdad prison but managed to escaped in 2007 and headed for Syria.

He was later extradited to France and incarcerated for 18 months before fleeing to Yemen.

In 2015 Cherif was placed on a US "designated global terrorist" list as a member of Al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate AQAP.

On Friday, the Paris prosecutor's office, which handles terror cases in France, released a list of 14 people charged with providing assistance to the Kouachis or their associate Ahmed Coulibaly. Cherif was not on the list.

On January 7, 2015, the Kouachi brothers killed 11 people at Charlie Hebdo's offices, and a policeman in a nearby street. In the following days, Coulibaly killed a policewoman outside Paris and four more people during a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket.

Twelve people died in the 2015 attack at satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo  Credit: AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File

The three attackers were killed in shootouts with police.

In November of the same year Paris was hit by terror attacks claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) - on the Bataclan concert hall, Paris bars and the Stade de France football stadium - that left 130 people dead.

The following July a Tunisian national drove a truck at high speed into crowds of people on the seafront in the southern city of Nice, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds more.

Isil claimed responsibility for the atrocity.

Last week five people died after a gun attack in Strasbourg by a radicalised local man.