ATbar Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and Jihad against France

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and Jihad against France

22/01/2015 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

The Terror Campaign in Paris- January 2015

On January 9, 2015, French security forces ended three days of jihadi terror around Paris, the worst terrorist violence France has seen in decades. Seventeen victims were killed in violence that began with an attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly on January 7, 2015 and ended with dual sieges at a print works outside Paris and a kosher supermarket in the city January 9, 2015.

French security forces killed the two Al-Qaeda-linked brothers who staged the murderous rampage at Charlie Hebdo and their Islamic State-affiliated accomplice who tried to help the brothers escape and later seized hostages at the kosher supermarket. A fourth suspect — the common law wife of the supermarket attacker — is still at large in Syria.[1]

French President Francois Hollande urged his nation to remain united and vigilant, and the city shut down a famed Jewish neighborhood amid fears of more violence. "The threats facing France are not finished," Hollande said, "We are a free people who cave to no pressure."[2] 

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

Nasr al-Ansi, a top AQAP commander, appeared in an 11-minute video posted online on January 14, 2015, titled, "A message regarding the blessed battle of Paris."

Al-Ansi said that the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was in "vengeance for the prophet" and that France belongs to the "party of Satan", and he warned of more "tragedies and terror". He said that "We, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the messenger of Allah. The leadership of (AQAP) was the party that chose the target and plotted and financed the plan...It was following orders by our general chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. The heroes were chosen and they answered the call. Today, the mujahedeen avenge their revered prophet, and send the clearest message to everyone who would dare to attack Islamic sanctities. If the freedom of your speech is not restrained, then you should accept the freedom of our actions," he said.[3]

The claim of responsibility coincided with the return of Charlie Hebdo to newsstands, amid unprecedented demand that led the paper to print five million copies. The new issue features another cartoon of Prophet Muhammad on its cover, with tears in his eyes, holding a "Je Suis Charlie" sign under the headline "All is forgiven".[4]

Five days earlier, AQAP took credit for the attacks in France in both a statement on its Web site and a series of tweets on January 9, 2015. The statement was issued by AQAP's religious authority, Harith al-Nazari, who hailed the attack on the French cartoonists as a religious duty to avenge their satire of the Prophet Mohammad. Nazari also promised more attacks against French, British and American targets.[5] 

According to a member of the group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the group's regulations do not permit him to give his name, the attack was in line with warnings from the late Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, to the West about "the consequences of the persistence in the blasphemy against Muslim sanctities". He explained that the claim of responsibility had been delayed for two days after the attack for “security reasons”.

During the assault, one of the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attack shouted, “You can tell the media it was Al-Qaeda in Yemen”, according to an eyewitness. The French news channel BFM Television reported that the two suspected attackers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, had made the same claim in a phone call from the printing plant where they held a hostage and were later killed in a police assault.

According to a Yemeni security official, Said Kouachi had visited AQAP for several months in 2011 and 2012. He was trained in light weapons and perhaps explosives, and fought for Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

In a recent issue of Inspire, the English-language jihadist magazine published by the Yemen-based AQAP, Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the 12 people killed , had been featured on a hit list under the caption “A Bullet a Day Keeps the Infidel Away.”

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

In the past, AQIM has killed French hostages in North Africa and clashed with French forces in northern Mali after Paris launched a military offensive in 2013 to dislodge Islamist fighters from the area. AQIM praised the gunmen behind this week's killings at the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo as "knight(s) of truth".

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors radical Islamist organizations in the media, reported that AQIM lauded the attackers with Arabic poetry on its Twitter account.[6] 

The Islamic State (IS)

In a seven-minute video, Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who staged the attack on the kosher supermarket, said: "I pledged allegiance to the Caliph as soon as the caliphate was declared," referring to Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The video showed scenes of man resembling Coulibaly doing physical training, and images of an arsenal of weapons and ammunition on the wooden floor of an apartment. He was shown dressed in white robes, sitting with a gun at his side, and in combat outfit.

Coulibaly said he would be working together with the Kouachi brothers: "We've done things a bit together, a bit apart, to try and (achieve) more impact."

Coulibaly had also called BFM-TV to claim allegiance to Islamic State, saying he wanted to defend Palestinians and target Jews. In that call, he also admitted to having planned the attacks together with the Kouachi brothers. Police confirmed that all three were members of the same Islamist cell in northern Paris.

Hours before the carnage began, Charlie Hebdo tweeted a cartoon of IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issuing a New Year's greeting, with the caption, "And especially, health!"[7]

France has been very active in combating the IS, which can explain the ongoing terrorist acts and threats on French territory. French warplanes began air strikes against IS targets in Iraq a few months ago when around 60 mainly Western and Arab states formed a coalition to combat the group, which is occupying swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria for its so-called Islamic “caliphate.”

The US-led coalition against the IS was forged after the group made rapid territorial gains in Iraq and beheaded a number of Westerners, including journalists. In December 2014, French President Francois Hollande said that France was ready to step up its actions against the IS.

Several factors that made France a high priority target of Al-Qaeda:

In July 2010, France declared war on Al-Qaeda and launched its first attack on an AQIM camp after the terrorist organization killed a French aid worker that it had taken hostage in April 2010. "We are at war with Al-Qaeda," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the death of 78-year-old hostage, Michel Germaneau.[8]

The declaration and attack marked a shift in strategy for France, which until then had usually been discrete about its behind-the-scenes battle against terrorism.

French involvement in the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

From 2009-2012, France had approximately 3,850 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission fighting the Taliban. At that time, eight French hostages were being held across the world, five held by AQIM in Niger, two held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and one held in Somalia.[9]

On October 27, 2010 bin Laden warned in a video that France's security depended on apullout from Afghanistan and the end of its "injustices" against Muslims.[10]
On January 21, 2011 bin Laden demanded that France withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of French hostages being held by Al-Qaeda affiliates, according to an audio message broadcast on Al Jazeera, an Arabic news channel.
"My message to you, today and in the past, is one and the same: The release of your prisoners held by our brothers is dependent upon the withdrawal of your troops from our countries. If you consider this a political dictate and 'despicable terrorism,' while you consider the expulsion of Hitler's forces from your lands an act of heroism and 'blessed terrorism,' then you are applying a double standard.[11]

"Oh, the French people, your president's refusal to withdraw from Afghanistan stems from his subordination to the U.S. By this refusal, [Sarkozy] has given the go-ahead for the immediate killing of your prisoners, so he could rid himself of the prisoners' case and its consequences. Nevertheless, we will not do it at the time determined by him. This position of his will cost both him and you dearly on several fronts, in France as well as abroad. You know full well that, given the extent of your debts and the weakness of your economy, you can do without opening new fronts."[12]

In response to bin Laden's threats, President Sarkozy said that his nation remained undaunted in its role to help stabilize Afghanistan, and French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said that "We are determined to continue our efforts on behalf of the Afghan people, with our allies."

France provides military, economic and political support to the "secular" regimes in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Al-Qaeda, appeared in an online video on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and claimed that the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a radical Algerian Islamist group, had joined Al-Qaeda and was being urged to punish France. According to a statement posted on the Internet, the GSPC pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and vowed to pursue jihad in Algeria, the AFP reported.[13]

"We pledge allegiance to Sheikh Osama Bin Laden... We will pursue our jihad in Algeria. Our soldiers are at his call so that he may strike who and where he likes," said the statement, signed by Abu Mossaab Abdelwadud, the emir of the group.

In the video, al-Zawahiri said: "Osama Bin Laden has told me to announce to Muslims that the GSPC has joined Al-Qaeda. This should be a source of chagrin, frustration and sadness for the apostates [of the regime in Algeria], the treacherous sons of [former colonial power] France".  He urged the group to become "a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders".

"We pray to God that our brothers from the GSPC succeed in causing harm to the top members of the crusader coalition, and particularly their leader, the vicious America," he said.

France military involvement in Mali

Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the younger brother of Al-Qaeda emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, threatened France and the West while condemning Western intervention in Mali. The younger al-Zawahiri promised that if France and its allies continue to fight in Mali, then Westerners will be the "first to burn."

"As Muslims, and not only Salafist Jihadists, we must do everything we can. He among us who can speak will speak, he who can act with his hands will also," al-Zawahiri said. "This is aggression. Will I stay quiet as someone comes to attack and kill me? That is unreasonable and unacceptable. France lit the fire, it started the war and if this continues the first to burn will be Western people."

"We have made explicit threats against France, which sparked the clashes and killed our Muslim brothers in Mali. We will never consider launching military attacks against Algeria, as we believe Algerians are Muslims and we are well aware that they are not satisfied with their government's performance."

In his statement, he also called on "all Muslims across the world to support Muslims in Mali, as this is their religious duty as Muslims. Those who refuse to perform such duty are traitors to their religion and homeland".[14]          

The French Senate’s vote to ban burqa-style Islamic veils in France, a subject that prompted threats by AQIM.[15]

A ban on the Muslim hijab (veil) and niqab (face cover) was passed overwhelmingly by France’s lower house of Parliament. The bill makes it illegal to cover one’s face anywhere in public. Those caught wearing a full veil will face hefty fines or be ordered to enroll in a "citizenship course". French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the full veil "hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society".[16]

In an audio tape posted online , Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri,  slammed France's move to ban Islamic face veils, saying Muslim women must hold on to their veils at any cost.

“What France is doing, which is spreading across Europe and the West, should prompt us to hold on to our true religion in face of their deviant ideologies,” he said in the tape posted on an Islamist Web site. "Europe is revealing its real face, telling Muslims that all the (European) citizenships they obtained... do not grant them the freedom and peace that they were imagining," al-Zawahiri said.

Cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad

Charlie Hebdo has long provoked controversy, mocking many religions with provocative drawings, a practice that has outraged some Muslims whose religion forbids depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Charlie Hebdo gained notoriety in February 2006 when it reprinted cartoons of the Prophet that had originally appeared in Danish daily, Jyllands-Posten. Its offices were also firebombed in November 2011 when it published a cartoon of Mohammed under the title "Sharia Hebdo".[17]

Summary and Conclusions

France is home to Europe's biggest Muslim population and it counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria and Iraq. France was on high alert along with many other countries that have seen citizens leave to fight alongside Al-Qaeda and the radical Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Both the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda have threatened France, and France must respond to the challenges of Al-Qaeda and the IS, as well as to home-grown terrorist networks and "lone wolf" terrorists. The Islamic terrorist threat has become one of France’s biggest security and foreign policy preoccupations in recent years.

The last terror campaign against France has the potential to upset relations between European states and their Muslim citizens. The strategic intent behind such attacks is precisely to sow this kind of crisis, as well as to influence French policy and recruit more jihadists.

France has had a long history of struggle with various forms of terrorism and over the past decades has achieved particular success against Algerian Islamic terrorist groups - the GIA and GSPC - with close links to Al-Qaeda.

Authorities around Europe have warned of the threat posed by the return of Western jihadists trained in warfare. The French government needs at least to stop the flow of French jihadists in order to minimize the threat level.

The recent attacks were expected and are the result of the important role that France is playing in combatting terrorist organizations, both in Middle East and Africa. Terrorist attacks will likely continue on French soil as long as France continues its growing involvement “in combatting Islamic terrorist organizations.”

[1] Lori Hinannt Elaine Ganley, French security forces kill gunmen, end terror rampage', AP, January 10, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Al-Qaeda in Yemen claims Charlie Hebdo attack, Al Jazeera, January 14, 2015.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lori Hinannt Elaine Ganley, French security forces kill gunmen, end terror rampage', AP, January 10, 2015.

[6] Al Qaeda's North Africa branch praises gunmen for Paris attack, Ahramonline, January 8, 2015.

[7] Mourning and manhunt after French magazine attacks, Ahramonline, January 8, 2015.

[8] France declares war against Al Qaeda, CNS News .com, July 27, 2010.

[9] Bin Laden vows to kill hostages if France stays, France to stay Afghanistan despite Bin Laden's threat, Al Arabia News Channel, January 21, 2011.

[10] Bin Laden demands France withdraw from Afghanistan, Fox News, January 21, 2011.

[11] Bin Laden vows to kill hostages if France stays, France to stay Afghanistan despite Bin Laden's threat, Al Arabia News Channel, January 21, 2011.

[12] Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatens France, MEMRI, a tape aired by Al Jazeera T.V, January 21, 2011.

[13] Al-Qaeda 'issues France threat', BBC News, September 14, 2006.


[15] Taliban militants threaten to kill kidnapped journalists CNN World, April 12, 2010.

[16] Al Qaeda No. 2 slams France's ban on Islamic veils, RFI, July 27, 2010.

[17] Mourning and manhunt after French magazine attacks, Ahramonline, January 8, 2015.