By Michael S. Smith II

According to a report by French media, a terrorist responsible for the 7 January 2015 shooting spree at the headquarters of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo told bystanders to advise the media the attack was the handiwork of al-Qa’ida’s Yemen branch, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). If this report is accurate, important questions include: Were the terrorists responsible for the attack in France today trained and deployed by AQAP, or were these jihadis simply motivated by the contents of AQAP propaganda like Inspire, al-Qa’ida’s leading English-language magazine, and acting without coordination with al-Qa’ida? If they were trained by al-Qa’ida, were these some of the jihadis targeted by elements of the al-Qa’ida network that are actively recruiting Westerners in Syria, and preparing them for attacks in the West? (Note: We cannot yet confirm the accuracy of the following details regarding ages and travel histories available in French here and here)

Charlie Hebdo drew the ire of jihadis by publishing cartoon renderings of Islam’s founder. In 2013, a photo of its editor, Stephane Charbonnier, appeared on a hit list published in Inspire. Roughly two weeks prior to this attack, AQAP released its Winter 2014 edition of Inspire, in which the so-called “AQ Chef” listed the US, UK and France as the top three targets for the so-called “Global Lone Jihad Movement,” as the AQ Chef calls it.

“Mujahid’s Notes” section of Winter 2014 edition, featuring image of French passport cover (upper right)

On the page prior to the interview with the AQ Chef, an image of a French passport is featured in a montage titled “Mujahid’s Notes.” Later, in the cover story that is attributed to the “External Operations Team,” the US, UK and France are again listed as the primary targets for al-Qa’ida’s “lone Jihad” (their words) campaign.

Perhaps coincidentally, within hours of the attack today in France, Twitter accounts used to promote al-Qa’ida propaganda began Tweeting an updated version of the hit list published by AQAP in Inspire last year — a red X imposed over the photo of Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier. (Example above.)

Perhaps also coincidentally, in another piece of jihadist propaganda that is being distributed with the updated hit list, an image of the execution of a police officer by the terrorists responsible for the attack in France today appears alongside a poem by the “martyred” American Pakistani Inspire editor Samir Khan (killed alongside Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011).

The same image of a French police officer being executed on 7 January appears on another piece of propaganda that is being distributed with the two aforementioned materials, with the following quote from al-Awlaki imposed over it: “It is not enough to have the intention of doing good. One must do good in the proper way. So what is the proper solution to this growing campaign of defamation. [sic] … The medicine prescribed by the messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved.” (Example above.)

It is not yet clear if the 7 January attack at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo was executed by members of al-Qa’ida who were trained by or acting on orders devolved by AQAP, which is today helmed by al-Qa’ida’s second-in-command.

Another plausible theory: This attack was more akin to the shooting spree at Ft. Hood perpetrated by a Muslim whose activity on the Internet indicated he was almost certainly influenced by the online sermons and guidance of then Yemen-based American-born al-Qa’ida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who used Facebook as a tool to promote his English-language calls to jihad on a global scale. (The cleric was a leading proponent of “leaderless jihad.”)

In the Winter 2014 edition of Inspire, asked “What is the idea of ‘lone Jihad’?” the al-Qa’ida propagandist known as the AQ Chef explains:

“There is a difference among the thinkers in the Jihadi movement on the practical application of the name ‘lone Jihad.’ Some consider this name applicable to all who are independent of a group and an organization in both the administration and military, whether it is an individual or more. Among the supporters of this view is Sheikh Abu Musab al-Suri. Others apply this name to everyone who carries out an operation alone even if he was sent by a group or an organization, like the operation of Umar al-Farouq …

“My view is that a lone Mujahid is he who has the two aforementioned characteristics: To be independent of a group and an organization in both the administration and military, and to act alone. This mode of Jihad is unpredictable to Western intelligence. This is whom they call a ‘lone wolf.’ It is hard to uncover, because none knows him but Allah. He has no relationship with any group or any individual. This is what we call to, and hereby assert.”

Asked “If the lone Mujahid has no associates, how is it possible for him to claim responsibility for the operation”? the AQ Chef advises that, in order to reduce the risk of detection by authorities, “we came up with a number of ideas for claiming responsibility:

“If it is a martyrdom operation, then it is 90% claimed. To complete this claim, you can call during the execution and send your message to who will distribute it, or you could take hostage and negotiate then carry out the operation, use a timing email or any other method that will not damage the success of the operation.

“If it isn’t a martyrdom operation you can claim using Wi-Fi without your profile registration, then dispose the device without leaving any trace. There are other methods like placing a piece of paper near the location of the operation before the operation. The symbol of the operation is ‘the Lone Jihad Movement.’ We also suggest a photo of the World Trade Center on fire.”

Further processing from the DOWNRANGE team to follow.

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