The terrible events in Paris reminded the world that extremist terror is still a serious threat. There are three points in particular that stand out from early reports about the attack and the attackers.
First, there are indications that the attackers might have ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In addition to official French mention of the group, one eyewitness watched as the attackers began their assault by calmly telling bystanders that they were from al-Qaeda in Yemen (in reference to AQAP). There are several reasons why AQAP is a plausible source for the attack. In 2013, AQAP’s English language magazine Inspire specifically named the editor of Charlie Hebdo (Stéphane Charbonnier) as a target for assassination. The attackers in Paris shouted when they entered Charlie Hebdo’s office that they wanted “Charb” (Charbonnier) and made certain to kill him first.
While some experts view AQAP as a group primarily motivated by a local agenda, it has been tied to terrorist attacks outside Yemen, including the attempt to take down an airplane over Detroit in Christmas Day 2009. The “imminent threat” to Europe and the U.S. from the Khorasan Group, revealed by the U.S. government in September 2014, was also tied to AQAP, showing that the Yemeni organization has not lost its intention to carry out terror attacks abroad. Furthermore, France has been repeatedly named by AQ as a target for attacks, including in the same Inspire issue that singled out Charbonnier.
Second, many experts have noted the military professionalism of the terrorists, a point given further support by their ability to carry out an attack in broad daylight, kill twelve—including at least two armed policemen—and get away. Late breaking news that at least two of the suspects had travelled to Syria might explain their military proficiency (not to mention showing the real danger posed by the thousands of foreign fighters who have flocked to that arena and are now returning to their homelands). The assault on Charlie Hebdo, in other words, might be just the leading edge of more deadly and professional terrorist attacks on European or American targets.
...if these reports are correct and it was AQ that carried out this assault, it might have been as much about the group’s struggle with the Islamic State (IS) as it was about killing French satirists.
Third, if these reports are correct and it was AQ that carried out this assault, it might have been as much about the group’s struggle with the Islamic State (IS) as it was about killing French satirists. The stunning military victories of IS this summer and the numerous lone-wolf attacks in France, Canada, and the U.S. associated with IS supporters were a propaganda bonanza for the extremist group. Meanwhile AQ has made some military progress in Syria, but carried out no attacks in the U.S. or Europe. All this had led some experts to conclude AQ has been outdone by a group that was once subordinate to it. The Paris attack, if it was indeed carried out by AQAP, might be AQ’s way of striking back at the IS as well as the West.