8 Jan 2015

Is this the man who radicalised the Paris suspects?

One of the brothers suspected of the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris praises the man who taught him “the goodness of suicide attacks” in video as Islamic State links are examined.

French-Algerian brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi remain on the run today, suspected of the killings in Paris, as information emerges about how police may have missed a key opportunity to jail him in a recent terror case, and how he may be linked to Islamic State militants.

Cherif had previously been sentenced in 2008 to three years for terror offences. In the video below filmed in 2004, shortly before his arrest in 2005, he is seen rapping and explaining how he was radicalised by the self taught preacher and former janitor Farid Benyettou, who was jailed alongside him.

(Video source: Pièces à Conviction, France 3, translation by Channel 4 News)

Who is Farid Benyettou

In an investigative report into French-Algerians and terrorism (above), aired in 2005 on the Pièces à Conviction program on channel France 3, Cherif is reported to have discussed the Benyettou’s key role in his radicalisation.

“Farid told me that the scriptures offered proof of the goodness of suicide attacks. It is written in the scriptures that it’s good to die a martyr,” he said.

The programme reported that Cherif was won over by preacher Farid Benyettou in just a few short months.

Cherif was “more inclined to hang out with pretty young girls than to attend the mosque … In a few months, though, he was to become a committed follower of Farid Benyettou,” the report states.

The brothers lived in Paris with him for a short time, with Benyettou said to be the ‘ringleader’ of a group of French Muslims recruited to go and fight in Iraq.

The programme reported that Cherif said: “Thanks to Farid’s advice, my doubts evaporated. I was afraid – but I didn’t say so. Farid clearly influenced my decision to leave (“mon depart”) in the sense that he provided a justification for my coming death.”

In a 2008 interrogation session, Benyettou said: “I taught that suicide attacks are legitimate under Islam.”

The group linked to Benyettou and Charif was known as the “Filiere des Buttes Chaumont” cell, after a park where the men would jog as part of training that included listening to Benyettou’s sermons and how to handle AK-47 Kalashinokovs, the weapons used in yesterday’s attack.

Benyettou was sentenced to six years for his part acting as the “spiritual guide” of the group, with Cherif released immediately after his conviction, having served enough of his three year sentence in pre-trial detention.

Due to his violent views, Benyettou had been thrown out of a number of French mosques. Kouachi said he was also inspired by the images of detainees abused by US troops at Abu Ghraid prison in Iraq.

It was also reported during that trial that Kouachi altered between attending Benyettou’s sermons and smoking marijuana.

The attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo was the worst terrorist attack carried out in the country for half a century. Twelve people were killed and 11 more injured before the attackers fled the scene.

Known well to the police

It has also emerged today that police may have missed a key opportunity to jail the man for a second time in relation to a dismissed case, one likely to be brought up in coming days in relation to why he wasn’t being more closely monitored by police.

A court filing from the case, published by Le Point weekly, reads: “Despite his avowed immersion in radical Islam, his demonstrated interest in theories defending the legitimacy of armed Jihad and his relationship with certain actors in the case…the preliminary investigation does not show the involvement of Cherif Kouachi.”

Police however did not enough concrete evidence against Kouachi, apart from videos of radical Islamic and al Qaeda speeches, and information that he had looked at jihadist sites online.

‘Links to Islamic State’

An armed-services adviser to President Hollande, Professor Jean-Pierre Filiu, today said he has identified possible links between the Paris suspects and Islamic State.

He told AFP that a French-Tunisian jihadist Boubaker el-Hakim and member of Islamic State was part of the same “Butte-Chaumont” network in Paris as Cherif Kourachi.

Hakim assassinated two Tunisian politicians in 2013 and he “represents the link between the Kouachi brothers and [Islamic State]”, the professor said.

“I am sure that the video claiming responsibility is already prepared.”