Following the January 7 armed attack on staff members of the French satirical news publication, Charlie Hebdo, French media sources have quoted a witness report that one of the shooters stated, "Tell the media that this is al-Qaeda in the Yemen," in reference to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Based on the long history of incitements against the newspaper by al-Qaeda (AQ) and AQAP, this account should not be dismissed.
Years of campaigning against such cartoonists and specified targeting of Charlie Hebdo's editors and staff by AQ leaders and publications make the group's involvement an equally plausible scenario as the Islamic State's (IS).
Taking revenge against those perceived as insulting Islamic sanctities has been a top priority for AQ.
Taking revenge against those perceived as insulting Islamic sanctities has been a top priority for AQ. Since September 2005, when the Danish paper Jyllands Posten published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, AQ leaders, including Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Adam Gadahn, have urged Muslims to defend the symbols of their faith and to wage jihad—either physically, monetarily, or verbally—against the offenders. In May 2008, Bin Laden issued an audio speech wherein he uttered his now-famous line: "If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions".
AQAP echoed these words of the former al-Qaeda leader in the third issue of its Arabic magazine, "Echo of the Epics," calling upon Muslims to act, and declaring that through their insulting the Prophet, Europeans have "opened unto themselves the door of hell."
Also, in the very first issue of AQAP's Inspire magazine, Anwar al-Awlaki authored an article entitled, "May Our Souls be Be Sacrificed for You," focusing on the aforementioned Prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy. He wrote that the solution to such actions is execution, and declared that for the Prophet, "we will fight for him, we will instigate, we will bomb and we will assassinate, and may our mothers be bereaved of us if we do not rise in his defense."
Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his March 2006 speech discussing the cartoon of the Prophet, argued that such insults are not a practice of freedom of speech, but of a systematic plan by the West to replace what is holy to Islam with what is unholy in the "fallen culture" of the West. Zawahiri called for "jihad against this criminal Crusader," stating:
Facing their insults requires a real defense that will thwart the Crusader campaign against Islam in all ways. This requires that we ask ourselves a serious question: Are we ready to sacrifice ourselves and what we own in the cause of Allah? Or are we too protective of the joys of the world compared to supporting Islam? If we are ready to sacrifice ourselves and what we own then we must seek jihad against this criminal Crusader campaign that targets our creed, land, and resources.
More recently, AQAP's tenth issue of its English magazine, Inspire, specifically called for the killing of "Charlie Hebdo" editor Stéphane Charbonnier. Released on February 28, 2013, the issue named and provided a picture of Charbonnier in a two-page spread of targets deemed to be "wanted dead or alive for crimes against Islam," and also stated, "A bullet a day keeps the infidel away."
The staff of Charlie Hebdo was also specifically declared as a target by AQ's American spokesman, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, in a speech released on October 16, 2012 (though dated April 30, 2012). In the speech, he discussed Western "countries that defend human rights in cursing our Prophet Muhammad," and then mentioned Charlie Hebdo:
So, where are the lions of Islam to retaliate for their Prophet, Allah's peace and prayer be upon, against France and its immoral newspaper Charlie Hebdo?
Gadahn then followed up with a not-so-subtle implication:
Is there more?
Thus, while IS has recently made direct calls for attacks in France, such as a November 2014 video calling for lone wolf attacks in the country, the information at hand indicates AQ to be a viable suspect until more information is available.