A top leader of Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch has claimed responsibility for last week’s attack on Paris satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo when two masked gunmen killed 12 people, including much of the weekly’s editorial staff, and two police officers.
Nasr al-Ansi, a top commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP as the branch is known, appeared in an 11-minute video posted online on Wednesday, saying that the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was in “vengeance for the prophet”.
Ansi said that France belongs to the “party of Satan” and warned of more “tragedies and terror”. He said that Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch “chose the target, laid out the plan and financed the operation”.
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The paper had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered an insult to Islam.
“We, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the messenger of Allah,” Ansi said in the video entitled “A message regarding the blessed battle of Paris.”
AQAP was formed in January 2009 as a merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al-Qaeda. Washington regards it as the network’s most dangerous branch and has carried out a sustained drone war against its leaders.
“The leadership of [AQAP] was the party that chose the target and plotted and financed the plan… It was following orders by our general chief Ayman al-Zawahiri,” Ansi said.
“The heroes were chosen and they answered the call,” he said.
Speaking over footage of the attack that killed 12 people, Ansi said: “Today, the mujahideen avenge their revered prophet, and send the clearest message to everyone who would dare to attack Islamic sanctities.”
Ansi referenced a warning by the late chief of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US commandos in May 2011. “If the freedom of your speech is not restrained, then you should accept the freedom of our actions,” he said.
On Saturday, another senior AQAP member Harith al-Nadhari also claimed responsibility for the attack in an audio recording, saying the shooting was an operation to teach the French the limits of freedom of expression.
Charlie Hebdo had angered Muslims in the past by printing cartoons lampooning Muhammad and Islam.
On Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande said that his country must show great determination against armed groups.
Hollande also criticised the international community for the slow response to the conflict in Syria, in a speech to troops aboard the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier.
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“I continue to regret the fact that the international community did not act in the required time to stop massacres in Syria and prevent extremists from gaining even more ground,” he said.
The claim of responsibility by al-Qaeda coincided with the return of Charlie Hebdo to newsstands, amid unprecedented demand that saw the paper print five million copies.
The new issue features another cartoon of Prophet Muhammad on its cover, with tears in his eyes, holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign under the headline “All is forgiven.”
AQAP has a record of launching attacks far from its base in Yemen, including a bid to blow up a US airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.
The group recently called for its supporters to carry out attacks in France, which is part of a US-led coalition conducting air strikes against fighters from the Islamic State group of Iraq and the Levant.