Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed on Friday that it directed the attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris “as revenge for the honor” of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) told the Associated Press in an English statement that “the leadership of AQAP directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully as revenge for the honor of the prophet.”
He said France was targeted “because of its obvious role in the war on Islam and oppressed nations.”
He warned that “touching Muslims’ sanctity and protecting those who make blasphemy have a dear price and the punishment will be severe” and that “the crimes of the Western countries, above them America, Britain and France will backfire deep in their home.”
He said the group will continue the policy by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri of “hitting the snake’s head … until the West retreats.” He also cited the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s warnings of the consequences of blasphemy against Muslim sanctities.
The member provided the statement on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized by the group to give his name.
The same statement in Arabic was later posted on Twitter by users known to be supporters of AQAP. The member said the group has delayed its official declaration of responsibility for “security reasons.”
Meanwhile, a Yemeni security official described Said Kouachi, one of the brothers involved in the deadly attack against a Paris newspaper, as being suspected of having fought for AQAP.
Another senior security official said Kouachi was in Yemen until 2012.
Both officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of an ongoing investigation into Kouachi’s stay in Yemen.
A U.S. intelligence assessment described to the Associated Press shows that Kouachi was trained in preparation to return home and carry out an attack.
If confirmed, the attack would be the first time al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has successfully carried out an operation in the West after at least two earlier attempts.
Many foreign students studying Arabic in Yemen were suspected of linking up with militants and were later deported. One of the Yemeni officials said Kouachi was likely among a group of foreigners deported from Yemen in 2012.
AQAP’s previous attempts
Previously, al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch directed the December 2009 attempt to bomb an American passenger jet over Detroit. The would-be bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who failed the detonate explosives on his body, went to Yemen to prepare for the attack and may have met with radical American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011.
In 2010, the group attempted to send bombs in packages to be delivered to targets in the United States, but the packages were intercepted on flights through Europe and the United Arab Emirates.