Slain editor of French newspaper had been on ‘hit list’ of al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Slain editor of French newspaper had been on ‘hit list’ of al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate

The editor of the French satirical magazine killed in a terrorist attack in Paris on Wednesday had been on an al-Qaida “hit list” for nearly two years, Yahoo News has learned.

“WANTED Dead or Alive for Crimes against Islam,” stated the March 2013 issue of Inspire, a Web magazine published by al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate, above a photo of nine targets considered to be anti-Islam, including Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, who was killed along with 11 others in today’s attack. (The copy of Inspire can be read here — and the display showing Charbonnier as a target is on page 15.)

Opposite the display was a photo showing a gun fired at another unidentified target’s head, under the headline “YES WE CAN, A Bullet a Day Keeps the Infidel Away.”

“He was on a hit list,” a U.S. intelligence official said of Charbonnier. But the official added that U.S. counter-terrorism officials do not yet know whether the attackers— who were publicly identified late today — were acting under orders from the al-Qaida affiliate, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, or may have been inspired by the group.

According to multiple press reports, the black masked attackers assaulted the office of Charlie Hebdo around noon, barging into an editorial staff meeting and heading straight for Charbonnier, killing him and his police bodyguard. One witness was quoted as saying that one of the gunmen shouted, “Tell the media this is al-Qaida in Yemen.”

CLICK IMAGE for slideshow: In this photo combination: (L), Two undated handout pictures released by French Police in Paris early January 8, 2015 show Cherif Kouachi, 32, (top left) and his brother Said Kouachi, 34, (bottom left) suspected in connection with the shooting attack at the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, France, January, 8 2015. (R) Gunmen shoot a wounded police officer (R) on the ground at point-blank range, as they flee the offices Charlie Hebdo in Paris. (Photo combination by Yahoo News, photos via EPA, REUTERS)

French police have identified the attackers as two French brothers, ages 34 and 32, and an 18-year-old whose nationality was not immediately known. The brothers were identified as Said Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi.

A U.S. intelligence source told Yahoo News that U.S. counterterrorism officials had no record of the terrorist suspects in any of their databases.

But a former top U.S. counterterrorism official said that the fact that Charbonnier had been placed on the hit list was significant.

“At a minimum, this indicates AQAP and Inspire continue to have resonance,” said Matthew Olsen, who until late last year served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Whether these individuals were acting as AQAP or were inspired by them, it demonstrates the continued significance of AQAP and its propaganda.”

The attackers are believed to have targeted the magazine because of cartoons lampooning Islamist jihadis, some of which contained depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Adam Gadahn, al-Qaida’s chief English-language propagandist, had railed against the magazine in a previous video, and the magazine was firebombed in 2011.

 Others on the hit list published in the March 2013 issue of Inspire included author Salman Rushdie, Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who has sharply criticized Islamic influences in the Netherlands, and Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who planned campaigns to burn Korans.

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