PARIS – The two French brothers wanted in the newspaper-office bloodbath in Paris were already known to U.S. counterterrorism authorities and had been on the American no-fly list for years, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.
The older brother, Said Kouachi, had traveled to Yemen and received terrorist training from Al-Qaida's affiliate there before returning to France, another senior U.S. official said Thursday.
Kouachi, 34, spent "a few months" training in small arms combat, marksmanship and other skills that appeared to be on display in videos of the military-style attack carried out Wednesday by at least two gunmen on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.
Kouachi's training came at a time when many other Muslim young men in the West were inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who by 2011 had become a senior operational figure for the terrorist group, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Tracked by ID card
Kouachi and his brother Cherif, 32 — the Paris-born offspring of Algerian parents — were identified as suspects after the older brother's ID card was found in the getaway car, authorities said.
Cherif, a former pizza deliveryman, had appeared in a 2005 French TV documentary on Islamic extremism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for trying to join up with fighters battling in Iraq. U.S. officials would not say if the Kouachis were believed to have fought in the Middle East.
A French security official said that U.S. authorities had shared intelligence with France indicating that Said had traveled to Yemen several years ago for training, and were seeking to verify its accuracy.
Before the words of a radical preacher persuaded him to book a flight to Syria to wage holy war, Cherif Kouachi was a ladies' man who belted out rap lyrics. It was the teachings of a firebrand Muslim preacher that put him on the path to jihad in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood of northeastern Paris, Kouachi was quoted as saying in the documentary.
The cleric "told me that [holy] texts prove the benefits of suicide attacks," Kouachi was quoted as saying. "It's written in the texts that it's good to die as a martyr."
Lawyer: Changed in prison
Associated Press reporters who covered his 2008 trial, which exposed a recruiting pipeline for Muslim holy war in the multiethnic and working-class 19th arrondissement of Paris, recalled a skinny young defendant.
Cherif Kouachi's lawyer said at the time that his client had fallen in with the wrong crowd. During the trial, he was described as a reluctant holy warrior, relieved to have been stopped by French counterespionage officials from taking a Syria-bound flight that was ultimately supposed to lead him to the battlefields of Iraq.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, however, said Thursday that Kouachi had been described by fellow would-be jihadis as "violently anti-Semitic."
Imprisonment changed him, his former attorney Vincent Ollivier told Le Parisien newspaper in a story published Thursday.
Kouachi became closed off and unresponsive and started growing a beard, the lawyer said, adding that he wondered whether the stint behind bars transformed his client into a ticking time bomb.
The New York Times contributed to this report.