By Jeremy Scahill, The Intercept
n the days since the siege at the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo, the press and social media sites have been consumed with the possible answers to one question: Beyond the two shooters, Said and Cherif Kouachi, who is responsible for the attack that killed 12 people at the magazine’s offices?
On Friday, shortly after the gunmen were killed by French forces in a raid on a printing plant outside of Paris, a source from within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) provided The Intercept with a series of messages and statements taking responsibility for the attacks, asserting that AQAP’s leadership “directed” the raid on the magazine to avenge the honor of the Prophet Mohammed.
Moments after The Intercept published these statements, an AQAP official, Bakhsaruf al-Danqaluh tweeted, in Arabic, the exact paragraphs the AQAP source provided us. Within an hour of that, AQAP’s senior cleric, Sheikh Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari, released an audio statement through AQAP’s official media wing, praising the attack. “Some of the sons of France showed a lack of manners with Allah’s messengers, so a band of Allah’s believing army rose against them, and they taught them the proper manners, and the limits of freedom of speech,” Nadhari declared. “How can we not fight the ones that attacked the Prophet and attacked the religion and fought the believers?” While heaping passionate praise on the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Nadhari stopped short of making any claim that AQAP directed or was in any way involved with the planning.
Historically, when AQAP has taken credit for attacks, it has used al Qaeda central’s al-Fajr Media to distribute statements and video or audio recordings through the AQAP media outlet al-Malahim to a variety of jihadist forums. But over the past year, AQAP has broadened its distribution strategy and has begun using Twitter and other social media sites. While AQAP continues to use al-Malahim, “the vast majority if not all of the releases are now released onto Twitter first via authenticated Twitter accounts that have become the first point of release,” says Aaron Zelin, an expert on al Qaeda and other militant groups and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute. “This has been the case ever since late July 2014, though AQAP had been making a slow transition going all the way back to early 2014.” Zelin’s analysis of this new distribution strategy tracks with how AQAP sources began to assert responsibility for the Paris attacks last week, with the one caveat being that an AQAP source provided the tweets in advance to a media outlet, The Intercept.
In the past, AQAP publicly took responsibility through its official media and communication channels. None of that has happened yet in the case of the Kouachi brothers’ Paris attack. [..]
In analyzing AQAP’s potential role in the Paris attack, it’s worth remembering the four-month delay between the group praising the 2009 underwear plot and the group releasing evidence it actually orchestrated the act. Short of such video or photographic documentation, and even with an official statement from AQAP’s leadership, it would be difficult to prove that AQAP indeed sponsored the raid on Charlie Hebdo.
Scahill, the co-founder of The Intercept, spoke with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman about these claims
Transcript can be read here