|Said Kouachi - Cherif Kouachi - Amedy Coulibaly - Hayat Boumeddiene|
We are all familiar with the actions that began in France on January 7 in which three Islamist terrorists murdered 17 people, including two police officers, and four citizens who had been taken hostage. The three terrorists, all French-born nationals, were killed in two separate, simultaneous police operations on January 9 following a massive manhunt.
The identities and backgrounds of the three perpetrators have been widely publicized. Two were brothers - Said and Cherif Kouachi, ages 32 and 34, who were trained by the al-Qa'idah affiliated group in Yemen known as al-Qa'idah in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Both received training on small arms and possibly explosives in 2011 under the tutelage of American-born cleric Anwar al-'Awlaqi (before he was killed in an American drone strike).
The third terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, 32 years old, was radicalized in France and belonged to a cell with the two Kouachi brothers and possibly other radical Islamists known as the "Buttes Chaumont Terror Group" - named for the park at which members of the cell met and conducted physical training.
The details of the actual attacks have been adequately covered by the media. What I want to address are some interesting facts that have emerged during and after the attacks on the Charlie Hedbo offices, the streets of Paris and the kosher supermarket.
According to the available reporting on the training received by the Kouachi brothers, the pair traveled to Oman and were smuggled into the Marib area of Yemen, a known AQAP area. They were there for two weeks - they received enough training to properly handle the types of weapons they later used in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices.
The two brothers entered the offices with AK-47 assault rifles, a shotgun and an RPG* launcher. These weapons, especially the RPG launcher, are not easily obtainable in France. It will be interesting to know where the weapons originated and how the brothers obtained them. Are there other members of the Buttes Chaumont Terror Group cell that may have assisted with the logistics for the attacks?
The fact that the shooters wore body armor and face masks tells me they planned to survive the initial attack, probably to prolong the event as long as possible for the maximum impact. If they were planning to die in that attack, they could have used a suicide vest and killed everyone.
Crashing their car while departing the attack scene may have complicated whatever initial escape plan the brothers had, but after they hijacked another car, they should have had a place to go with money, food, weapons, clothing, another vehicle, etc., rather than resorting to robbing a gas station for food and fuel.
Although the brothers handled the weapons well and were disciplined and ruthless shooters, their post-attack planning was not that professional. The fact that Said Kouachi's identification card was dropped and found later by police in their vehicle indicates the lack of proper planning - they should not have been carrying any identification.
AQAP later claimed to have ordered the attacks, which may or may not be true. In an interview they granted to a reporter during the hostage portion of the event, the Kouachi brothers declared that they were operating on behalf of the al-Qa'idah affiliate.
Contrast the affiliation of the Kouachi brothers with that of fellow Buttes Chaumont Terror Group cell members Amedy Coulibaly and his Islamic-law wife (France does not recognize the religious marriage). These two claim to have an affiliation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a video and again during an interview during the hostage stage of the event, Coulibaly declared his allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate (as ISIS sometimes refers to itself) and Caliph Ibrahim (also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), the head of ISIS. The fact that Coulibaly arranged for his wife to enter Turkey and make her way to Syria underscores their commitment to ISIS.
This apparent dichotomy in the allegiance of members of the same cell - some loyal to AQAP and others loyal to ISIS - is telling. While we have seen periods of cooperation and alliance between the two Islamist groups - al-Qa'idah in Iraq was the founder of ISIS, after all - neither of the two have resolved their differences in how an Islamic caliphate should be or will be structured and managed.
It appears to me that these four Islamists were able to put aside the ideological issues between the two groups which they represented in order to be able to conduct these attacks - a tactical alliance to achieve a common objective. We should also be careful not to read too much into this mutual assistance arrangement. First, it is not an indication that the two groups are entering an alliance - events in Syria between the two groups bear that out.
Second, we should not assess that since they were not members of larger al-Qa'idah or ISIS groups that there are not many more Islamists terrorists already in place in France and other European countries. The nature of cells may have precluded them from knowing of others of similar bent. We have already seen threats from ISIS that these attacks are but the first wave - it would be unwise not to assume that there are more sleeper cells in the country.
If this is the first wave of attacks, they may not be limited to France or even Europe. Although there are much fewer American Islamists who have returned from the battlefields of the Middle East, it only takes one or two who are willing to die.
Note: The French transliterate Arabic names mush differently than the English-speaking countries. In the transliteration system used by the U.S. and UK governments, the names of the two brothers and the wanted woman would be rendered as Sa'id al-Kawashi, Sharif al-Kawashi and Hayat Bumaydin. Amedy Coulibali is a Senegalese name.
* Later determined to be an anti-tank missile launcher similar to the M72 LAW.