Europe // Analysis

02 february 2015

Nice to meet you, Je suis Charlie

Embassy of France in Moscow

January terror attacks in the French capital will mark a new era of counter terrorism upheaval and unity among leading world powers. If the effect and repercussions of the tragedy are evident and will stay in our minds for a long time, the true nature of the attack remains dubious. RIAC team has asked Jasmine Opperman, director of African Operations of Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC) to share her opinion.

How can you account for the nature of Charlie Hebdo attacks? Was this an act of terrorism prepared by a foreign terrorist organization or "local" "homegrown" terrorists?

A distinction is needed between influence and actual planning and execution. That there has been ideological influence from AQAP and the ISIS on the Kouachi brothers as well as Coulibaly, however, this is where their direct involvement with the incidents ends. The actual planning and execution of the attacks were done between the brothers and Coulibaly, also admitted by Coulibaly. In a video Amedy Coulibaly said that he worked in coordination with Said and Cherif Kouachi, the "brothers from our team," who carried out the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on the 7th of January,2015.

picture alliance / Tone Koene / Vostock Photo
Eugenia Obichkina:
Counter-Terrorism Mobilization in France

He added that: "We did things a bit together and a bit apart, so that it'd have more impact," and added that he had helped the brothers financially with "a few thousand euros" for the operation. Also frequent contact between Coulibaly’s and Cherif’s wife during the preceding months also indicates that knowledge must have been shared on what the three were planning. Also, the fact that the incidents occurred at more or less the same time, cannot be attributed to coincidence and does show not only knowledge of what is being planned but also the type of attacks (hostage taking and executions) that were used in both incidents.

AQAP claiming credit for the attack rather seems to be opportunist jihadism to counter the video in which Coulibaly stated his ISIS loyalty. The attack presents a group of friends that planned and executed an attack based on loyalty and friendship to each other rather than loyalty to competing jihadist groups.

What we are seeing here are two important aspects:

  • Friends acting on their loyalty to each other rather than loyalty of AQAP or ISIS;
  • The ideological schism between the ISIS and AQAP will not direct individual actions and cooperation on European soil – “non-aligned coordination” to execute is key to understanding the link between the two incidents.

Is it possible to interpret these events as an attack on freedom of speech and a blow on French traditional values? Can we say that it is the beginning of a terrorist campaign based on Islamic dogma in Europe?

Though the attacks targeted specific individuals, these individuals were symbolizing core aspects of Western values, such as freedom of speech. They were targeted not only for having insulted Islam in a local context, but also regarded as “legitimate targets” as viewed by groups such as AQAP and the ISIS. The influence of AQAP and ISIS in terms of inspiring the actual attacks must be noted here, where those viewed as representative of Western values are perceived as a threat. In this context, the US, UK, France and Spain are some of the most prominent states mentioned in propaganda material to be targeted.

Rumor has it that Charlie Hebdo attack was somehow supported by the US because prior to this tragedy French President expressed his willingness to mediate in the talks between the EU and Russia on lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia?

There were numerous triggers that lead to the attack, such as the published cartoons perceived to be insulting Islam, the French government perceived discrimination against foreign communities from the Middle East and the French government direct involvement in countering terrorism in Iraq and in the North Africa. The lifting of sanctions could be added as an additional factor, but not as the core reason.

What conclusions will be made by the French government?

The French government has already announced setting a more focused and targeted intelligence, law and order operations to counter terrorism. The incident will be viewed as example of the direct threat posed by Islamic extremism and hence will guide counter terrorism operations within not only France but will also boost French international involvement. Lastly, we are likely to see the French government emphasizing the links between the attacks and AQAP/ISIS.

Interviewed by Tatiana Bogdasarova, RIAC Coordinator

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“Nice to meet you, Je suis Charlie,” Russian International Affairs Council, 02 February 2015,

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