Brothers wanted in Paris bloodbath were on US no-fly list

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The two French brothers wanted in the newspaper office bloodbath in Paris were already known to US authorities and had been put on the American no-fly list, a senior US counter-terrorism official said Thursday.

Another US official said the older brother, Said Kouachi, had travelled to Yemen. It was unclear whether he was there to join up with extremist groups such as al Qaeda.

The details emerged as French authorities conducted an all-out manhunt for the Kouachi brothers Cherif, 32, and Said, 34 in the terror attack Wednesday that killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly that lampooned radical Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

They were identified as suspects after the older brother’s ID card was found in the getaway car, authorities said. Witnesses said the gunmen in the attack claimed allegiance to Al Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen.

Both Kouachi brothers the Paris-born offspring of Algerian parents were already known to French counterterrorism authorities.

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.

The US no-fly list includes known or suspected terrorists and extremists. The US officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.

A French security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that American authorities had shared intelligence with France indicating that Said had travelled to Yemen several years ago for training. French authorities were seeking to verify the information, the official said.

Cherif Kouachi chased girls and belted out rap lyrics in his rough-and-tumble Paris neighbourhood before the words of a firebrand Muslim preacher persuaded him to book a flight to Syria to wage holy war.

The cleric “told me that (holy) texts prove the benefits of suicide attacks,” Kouachi was quoted as saying in the TV documentary. “It’s written in the texts that it’s good to die as a martyr.”

Much less has become public about Said, but Cazeneuve said the jobless resident of the city of Reims was also known to authorities, despite having never been prosecuted, because he was “on the periphery” of his brother’s illegal activities.

In Reims, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Paris, Said frequented a prayer room on the ground floor of an apartment building, according to the local imam, Abdul-Hamid al-Khalifa.

Al-Khalifa said that Said wore traditional North Africa clothes to prayers and didn’t mix much if at all with other worshippers. “Typically, he’d come late to prayers and leave right when they were done,” Al-Khalifa said in a telephone interview.

If French authorities are now hunting for the right suspects, it may be because of Said, Cazeneuve hinted. In the stolen Citroen abandoned Wednesday by the gunmen, police found a French identity card in the older Kouachi’s name, the minister said.

Moreover, after the attackers dumped the first car, they grabbed another, and Cazeneuve said the elder Kouachi had been identified as “the aggressor” by witnesses shown his photo.

A third suspect identified by French authorities in the attack turned himself in Wednesday night. Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered at a police station after learning his name had been linked to the case in the news, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor.

She did not specify his relationship to the Kouachis. Dilanian reported from Washington.