Cherif Kouachi, one of two brothers believed to have carried out the horrifying massacre of 12 people at the office of French political humor magazine Charlie Hebdo, was once an aspiring rapper and, in the words of his onetime lawyer, a “pot smoker from the projects.”
But Kouachi and his brother Said came under the influence of a radical Islamist preacher sometime in the early 2000s. According to intelligence sources who provided background information to the British press Thursday, the brothers are thought to have been sent to al-Qaeda terror training camps in Yemen.
There, they were likely trained for the commando-style, precision attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices Wednesday morning.
The French newspaper Le Figaro uncovered the above video, showing Cherif Kouchi — now 32 but in his early 20s at the time the video was filmed — in an early attempt at rapping.
Kouachi would not be the first former rapper to throw it all away to become a jihadi terrorist. London-based rapper Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary also fled to Syria where he is now believed to be a fighter with the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, there. Abdel Bary was also suspected of being the masked executioner known in the West as “Jihad John,” who has appeared in several videos showing the beheadings of American and British hostages.
British intelligence agencies reportedly have ruled out Abdel Bary as a “Jihadi John” suspect, however.
Cherif Kouachi has already been convicted of taking part in terrorist activities. In 2005 he was arrested for trying to flee to Syria, and from there to Iraq where he hoped to take part in attacks against United States and coalition troops.
When he was convicted in 2008, his lawyer Vincent Ollivier described Cherif Kouachi as “more pot smoker from the projects than an Islamist,” and an “apprentice loser” who got by as a pizza delivery driver.
“He smokes, drinks, doesn’t sport a beard and has a girlfriend before marriage,” the lawyer said, in an attempt to prove that Kouachi was not a hardened terrorist.
But according to reports appearing in the press, which have not been independently confirmed, Kouachi and his older brother Said — both French citizens whose Algerian parents left them orphaned at an early age — actually made it to Syria last year, and were sent by al-Qaeda for terror training in Yemen.
According to military and terrorism analysts who spoke to ABC News, videos of the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attack displayed a high level of skill that could only have been the result, they say, of elaborate training and planning.
“This does not look at all like a spontaneous attack or a lone wolf attack,” said former White House counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke. “This looks like a team that was selected, trained, probably over the course of a long period of time, and sent in with this particular target in mind.”
As of Thursday morning, U.S. East Coast Time, Cherif and Said Kouachi were still the subjects of a nationwide manhunt in France after the brutal Charlie Hebdo attack.