Terrorist Tradecraft Is to Purposefully Confuse Jihadist Affiliation

Amedy Coulibaly

Most national security analysts had assumed that both of the Paris terrorist attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo by the Kouachi brothers and the shooting of a policewoman and attack on a kosher market by Amedy Coulibaly had been sponsored by al-Qaeda as one-upmanship in their rivalry with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). But after his death in a shoot-out, a video was released indicating Coulibaly was on an ISIS mission.

Coulibaly, in the video, repeats claims he made to a French television station Friday that his killing of a police officer and the four others at a kosher market, along with the attack on Charlie Hebdo were “synchronized” for avenging Mohammed.

Coulibaly and the Charlie Hebdo attackers, identified by officials as Cherif and Said Kouachi, were killed Friday in synchronized and simultaneous hostage rescue operations by French authorities, after literally closing down France during the 48-hour manhunt for the perpetrators of the attacks.

The video, according to the website Breaking 911, was “filmed over several days and edited after the attacks, the video shows Amedy Coulibaly displaying a small arsenal of weapons, doing pushups and pullups in a drab courtyard and, in broken Arabic, giving fealty to IS [ISIS] militants. The video appeared Sunday on militant websites, and two men who dealt drugs with Coulibaly confirmed his identify to The Associated Press.”

Speaking in French and sometimes broken Arabic, Coulibaly blamed France’s participation in airstrikes on the Islamic State by U.S.-led “coalition” and inability to practice Sharia Law in his own home as motivations for his assault on the kosher market. “You attack the Islamic State. We attack you.”

With an AK-47 at his side and an ISIS flag on the wall, he tried to justify his actions by stating, “You and your coalition, so that you who are almost in the lead now, you bombard there regularly,” he said. “You kill civilians, you kill combatants, you kill.” Coulibaly calmly stated, “I pledge allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi,” the self-declared head of ISIS.

The multi-segment video, lasting 7 minutes, showed an armed Coulibaly in several costumes, including in Arab and African robes and body armor. The video scenes led police to a hideout in the Paris suburb of Gentilly that Coulibaly had rented a week earlier to prepare for his attacks, according to information provided to ABC News. French DGSE intelligence services and local police raided the apartment and found a number of weapons and ISIS flags.

One of the segments of the video that referred to the Charlie Hebdo attack must have been recorded during the attack on Friday. The last sequence of the video shows the assault on the kosher market by French security forces, lots of gunfire, and then the shooting of Coulibaly.

The video was first uplinked to an obscure jihadist account on Twitter, rather than the Islamic State’s official forums, Aaron Zelin—an expert in jihadist movements at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy—told the Washington Post. Although Coulibaly claimed to be acting on behalf of the Islamic State, Zelin said it is still unclear if he was directly connected or just a sympathizer in a wider network of jihadists who volunteered for the mission.

According to ABC News, the Kouachi brothers also spoke with a French television outlet during their respective standoffs with police. A man who identified himself as Cherif Kouachi reportedly told the station he was working for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP published a hit list on January 8 in its online magazine, warning of death to those who had insulted Mohammed, including Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier. The next day, the Kouachi brothers executed their attack.

Terrorist tradecraft is all about creating the maximum fear and confusion in the general population. The inability of the police and security services to quickly determine if al-Qaeda or ISIS were behind the incidents will further undermine the French public’s confidence that their government can protect them from future terrorist attacks.