Paris gunmen were ‘well-prepared’ for Charlie Hebdo attack

Armed gunmen face police officers near the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan. 7. Anne Gelbard (AFP)/Getty Images

PLEASE NOTE: This story has been updated with information regarding the arrest of one of three suspects in the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

French police released details late Wednesday about the identities of the three suspects in the attack at the office of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Police arrested 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad early Thursday morning, after he surrendered in the northeastern city of Reims.

The two suspects still at large (as of the last update) are Paris-born brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. They are aged 34 and 32, respectively, and are of Algerian descent. Mourad’s nationality was not known.

What current affiliations the alleged gunmen may have was not entirely clear at the time of publication, although The Associated Press reported they may be linked to a Yemeni terrorist network — possibly al-Qaeda, which threatened the publication in 2013.

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The Telegraph reported both Kouachi brothers had been to Syria and The Associated Press previously reported Chérif Kouachi had been linked to al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents in Iraq in the past.

But what’s clear from video footage, taken before the assailants fled, is that all were well-trained for Wednesday’s massacre. Twelve people died in the assault, including 10 Charlie Hebdo staff and two police officers. Eleven others were injured.

READ MORE: ‘Today is a sad day’: French residents share response to Paris attacks

“By all indications… these individuals were well-trained. Some of them were taking cover while the other was moving forward,” said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public Affairs. “This was a deliberate, well-planned, well-executed attack [that was] completely unlike the two attacks, in Ottawa and Australia.”

Juneau described Parliament Hill gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Sydney café siege killer Man Haron Monis as “amateurish individuals.”

Zehaf-Bibeau, Monis and Martin Roleau – the 25-year-old who ran down Canadian Forces member Patrice Vincent in St.-Jean-sur-Richeleau, Que. on Oct. 20 — were all self-radicalized and carried out attacks on home soil.

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WATCH: Stuart Greer reports from Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting

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Ethan Field, a former U.S. Marine who now writes for The Global Scout, an international affairs and conflict blog, said he suspected the gunmen weren’t just homegrown radicals or recent extremist recruits.

He also said he saw distinct differences in the skills of the Paris assailants and ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra fighters often seen in videos posted online.

“I feel like a lot of the attacks [seen in footage from Syria] rely on volume of fire, enough people shooting in the same direction, throwing enough grenades, throwing enough RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), and eventually you’re going to hit somebody and eventually you’re going to overwhelm them,” Field said in phone interview. “A lot of those basic tenets of marksmanship just do not show up.”
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The gunmen were much more “deliberate” in their assault, said Field — who as a Marine was tasked with providing weapons training to local forces during tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“These were no strangers to shooting,” Field said. “I can speak from my own combat experience, when firing starts fine motor skills go to hell.”

An image of a police car with bullet holes in the windshield shows how precisely the guns, reportedly AK-47 assault rifles, were fired.

A photo taken on January 7, 2015 shows a police car riddled with bullets during an attack on the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris which left eleven dead, including two police officers. AFP/Getty Images

“It takes practice, and I would say in most cases it takes experience, to be able to overcome that adrenaline. Even if you’re the one initiating it and you know that you’ve got the situation under control, the adrenaline goes crazy.”

He said the gunmen fired “measured shots” and they knew where their bullets were going to hit.

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READ MORE: Canada reacts to Paris magazine attack #JeSuisCharlie

Juneau said it’s “unfortunately not a surprise” that Charlie Hebdo was targeted.

“At the very least, it does appear pretty clear that it was reprisals directly to Charlie Hebdo for what it has done [publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and Islamist leaders],” he said.

He mentioned the previous al-Qaeda threat against the magazine. “Al-Qaeda in Yemen has a history of doing what it says it’s going to do, so it’s plausible that it is al-Qaeda in Yemen.”

But, he pointed the terror network has not claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo shootings (at least not at the time of publication).

Juneau said al-Qaeda in Yemen tends to plan its attacks from the top ranks, which is different than the attacks that were carried out on Canadian and Australian soil. The attacks in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Ottawa and Sydney may have been inspired by extremist ideals, but they were not clearly linked to or directed by ISIS.

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Regardless, Juneau said these are attacks are something we may need to get used to.

“We’re at a pace of almost one a month now — Canada in October, Australia in December, Paris today in January. That’s a high pace,” he said. “It’s probably what we should expect for the foreseeable future.”

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