As one 18-year-old suspect hands himself over to police, the hunt is on for brothers in their 30s
The attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday, which left 12 people dead, has brought left France and most of Europe in a deep state of shock.The emergence of the names of the main suspects didn’t take long to get into the public domain, causing one of them – an 18-year-old of uncertain nationality named Hamyd Mourad – to turn himself in to police at Charleville-Mézières near the Belgian border.
The other two being sought by police are brothers in their 30s from the north-east of Paris named Chérif and Saïd Kouachi. Their names first appeared on a police dossier back in the summer of 2004.
At the time, Chérif was a pizza delivery man at El Primo Pizza and was living in Rue Ambroise-Rendu. The young man was just 22 and was an orphan, coming from a family of five. He had been in State care since the age of 12 and was a regular cannabis user. He and his older brother Saïd began to frequent a small circle of Jihadist leanings that encouraged literal readings of the Koran. At each meeting, there were a dozen or so like-minded individuals in a back room of a mosque and the group became politically radicalized over the American invasion of Iraq. Since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq was declared a new zone of Jihad after Afghanistan.
In all, about ten people from the 19th arrondissement of Paris left to fight the American army in Iraq. Three of them died while fighting there and several others were arrested as they tried to leave.
The idea of carrying out an action on French soil was one that divided the group. The terrorist cell’s leader was Farid Benyettou, who had an influence over Chérif Kouachi. The latter was in favour of carrying out attacks in France on what he considered to be legitimate targets. One of his former colleagues told police that “Chérif talked to me of destroying Jewish-owned shops, of catching them in the street and beating them. He spoke about nothing else and about doing something here in France before leaving.”
Kouachi the younger was persuaded by his mentor Benyettou to focus his vitriol on the Iraqi conflict. Trained the in the use of a Kalashnikov (a mixture of one hour’s instruction followed by hours of watching instructional videos on armes.com), he was about to leave France when he was arrested in January 2005. Even though he talked down his role, he did admit to police that he was “prepared to die in combat. I got this idea while watching the injustices shown on television about what was happening over there. What I mean by that are the tortures that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqi people.”
In the trial known as the “Iraqi networks of Buttes-Chaumont” (after the area in Paris) in March 2008, Chérif Kouachi was sentenced to three years in prison with 18 months suspended.
Below: First images of the attackers in the streets of Paris