It’s still early going, but the sophistication of Wednesday’s attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is, as the New York Times reports, leading experts to suspect the involvement of al-Qaida or one of its affiliates. According to one eyewitness, one of the gunmen yelled, “Tell the media that this is al-Qaida in Yemen” as he was fleeing.
Another clue: In a recent issue of Inspire, the English-language magazine published by the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the 12 people killed Wednesday, was featured on a hit list under the caption “A Bullet a Day Keeps the Infidel Away.”
The other figures on the list, with their photos displayed under the headline “Wanted Dead or Alive for Crimes Against Islam,” are Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks, two cartoonists who have already survived assassination attempts after drawing cartoons of Mohammad; Carsten Juste and Flemming Rose, editors at Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that caused an international scandal by publishing Westergaard’s cartoons in 2005; Terry Jones, the Florida preacher best known for attempting to publicly burn the Quran in 2010; Geert Wilders, the leader of the right-wing Dutch Party for Freedom, known for his outspoken criticism of Islam; Morris Sadek, an Egyptian Christian activist based in Virginia, best known for promoting the anti-Mohammad film The Innocence of Muslims; and Salman Rushdie, the celebrated author who spent years in hiding after being threatened by Islamic fundamentalists over his book The Satanic Verses. (Several of the names are misspelled in Inspire’s graphic.)
The page also separately lists two women, though it does not include their photos: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-American activist and critic of Islam, and Molly Norris, the American cartoonist who promoted “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” in 2010 to protest the censoring of a Mohammad-themed episode of South Park.
Inspire, which has distinguished itself through its slick graphic design and cheeky headlines like “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” was the brainchild of the American AQAP members Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, but has continued to publish intermittently since they were killed by U.S. drone strikes in 2011.
Terrorism analysts have criticized English-speaking reporters for attributing too much importance to the publication, which often seems aimed as much at the media as at potential jihadists. Which is why it’s a mistake to read too much into the list. It’s highly unlikely that the French-speaking perpetrators of Wednesday’s attacks got the idea from the magazine. But it certainly gives an indication of the mindset that led to Wednesday’s events, not to mention the strange but very real focus on writers and cartoonists.