French attack brothers were on U.S. no fly-list

According to witnesses, the gunmen also pledged allegiance to the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the organization’s offshoot in Yemen

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The two brothers suspected of storming the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris killing 12 people were on a U.S. no fly list, the Associated Press reported Friday.

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said that the older brother had traveled to Yemen. According to witnesses, the gunmen also pledged allegiance to the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the organization’s offshoot in Yemen.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.

French police launched a nation-wide manhunt for the Kouachi brothers - 32-year-old Cherif and 34-year-old Said - following the attack. Authorities fear a second strike by the suspects, and distributed their portraits with the notice “armed and dangerous.”

More than 88,000 security forces were deployed on the streets of France.

They also extended France’s maximum terror alert from Paris to the northern Picardie region, focusing on several towns that might be possible safe havens for the two suspected assailants.

Familiar faces

The Paris born siblings were already known to American and French counterterrorism authorities, as Cherif was indicted in a 2008 trial for trying to join fighters in Iraq.

It was the teachings of a firebrand Muslim preacher that put him on the path to militancy in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood of northeastern Paris, Kouachi was quoted as saying in a 2005 French TV documentary about extremism.

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.”

Associated Press reporters who covered the 2008 trial, which exposed a recruiting pipeline for Muslim holy war in the multi-ethnic and working-class 19th arrondissement of Paris, recalled a skinny young defendant who appeared very nervous in court.

During the trial, Kouachi was said to have undergone only minimal training for combat - going jogging in a Paris park to shape up and learning how a Kalashnikov automatic rifle works by studying a sketch.

He was described at the time 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 militants at the time 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.

There was a time, though, when he had very different interests.

Footage in the documentary, part of a prestigious French public television series titled “Evidence for the Prosecution,” shows him in 2004, when, according to the narrator, the lanky young man in a black T-shirt with extremely close-cropped hair and a chunky wristwatch was keener on spending time with pretty girls than on going to the mosque. He appears relaxed and smiling as he pals around with friends.

At one point, with his baseball cap worn backward, Kouachi belts out some rap music and breaks into a joyful dance.

After he was released from prison, he worked in a supermarket’s fish section in a Paris suburb for six months beginning in 2009. Supervisors said he gave no cause for concern.

In 2010, police detained him again in a probe of an alleged plot to free an Islamic militant sentenced to life in prison for bombing a Paris train line in 1995. Kouachi was ultimately released with no charges ever brought against him.

Much less has become public about the older brother, 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 the illegal activities his younger sibling was involved in.