French authorities arrested Charlie Hebdo gunman Cherif Kouachi in 2005 for his participation in a plot to bring jihadists into Iraq. A court found him guilty in 2008, but in a video resurfacing in light of this month’s attack, he proclaims his innocence.
“The whole thing has been set up,” he claimed as he left court. “We are just young kids from the suburbs, that is all. We get passionate, we talk like this but there is nothing more, that’s it. We did nothing wrong. There was no intention (from us), now they pretend things, but who cares. We will see and I hope that it will show evidence.”
Police arrested him in 2005 right before he boarded a flight. He claimed he was “relieved”, since he possessed doubts on the trip to Iraq. At the court in 2008, Kouachi described himself as a “young kid,” but was 25-years-old at the time. He received a six-year sentence “for his part in the Buttes Chaumont network,” but only served three years. His reservations about terrorist attacks died in prison, where he met Djamel Beghal, al-Qaeda’s commander in France, and Amedy Coulibaly. The latter worked with Kouachi and his older brother Said to terrorize Paris, France over the course of three days in January.
The New York Times discovered numerous documents that show how the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly managed to hide in public:
They shaved regularly, eschewing the conspicuous beards worn by many Islamists. They dressed in jeans and basketball sneakers, offering no outward hint of their plans or jihadist beliefs.
After at least one of the Kouachis traveled to Yemen in 2011, the United States alerted French authorities. But three years of tailing the brothers yielded nothing, and an oversight commission ruled that the surveillance was no longer productive, said Louis Caprioli, the deputy head of France’s domestic antiterror unit from 1998 to 2004.
The brothers appeared so nonthreatening that surveillance was dropped in the middle of last year, he said, as hundreds of young Muslims cycled back and forth to Syria for jihad and French authorities shifted priorities.
On January 7, the Kouachi brothers slaughtered twelve people at the satirical newspaper’s headquarters in Paris, France over cartoons depicting Mohammed. Cherif’s mentor, Farid Benyettou, was arrested with him in 2005 but completed his sentence and since then has established a career in nursing. He treated some of the Charlie Hebdo victims and condemned the terrorist attack.
“I condemn what was done,” he said. “I want to send this message: Islam condemns everything that has been done – the cowardly and monstrous murder of journalists, of police officers and members of the Jewish community. That should not be attributed to Islam. It’s the worst crime that a Muslim could commit.”