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article imageRuthless and bumbling — The Charlie Hebdo killers' odd mixture

By Michel Moutot (AFP)     Jan 11, 2015 in World

They killed like pros, but when the time came to flee, the Charlie Hebdo murderers morphed into bumbling characters from a crime caper -- an odd and troubling mix, according to French security experts.

Amateur footage and photos taken immediately after Wednesday's massacre showed the Kouachi brothers wielding their Kalashnikov assault rifles with the assurance of trained soldiers.

Kitted out in hoods, black clothing and ammunition pouches, they moved through the street outside the satirical weekly's offices in a way that clearly showed knowledge of infantry tactics -- for example, one covering the other as they advanced.

When one of them finished off a wounded policeman on the sidewalk, he fired without breaking stride, displaying the cold bloodedness of a veteran.

"You can clearly see the way they hold their weapons, the way they move calmly, coldly. They have definitely had a military type of training. These are not hotheads acting on the spur of the moment," a police source told AFP, noting how the duo held their weapons close to their bodies and fired single shots, not the wild bursts typical of panicky beginners.

Other elements suggested good preparation.

The men apparently knew that the whole Charlie Hebdo editorial team would be holding a meeting and planned their attack despite knowing that first they'd have to kill a police officer stationed to protect Charb, the editor in chief, because of previous threats.

A major slip-up was not knowing the exact location of the office where the meeting took place, meaning the attackers first had to ask directions. But they handled what could have been a disastrous error in their plans equally calmly, persisting until they reached their target.

- Chaotic get-away -

It was afterwards that the brothers' apparently careful preparation unravelled.

Although they were not yet being chased, they ran into another car with the black Citroen C3 they were using to leave the scene. Next, they switched to a hijacked Clio, but when they left their earlier car behind, Said Kouachi blundered by leaving his French identity card, handing investigators an immediate breakthrough.

On Thursday, after having successfully evaded police for about 24 hours, they gave themselves away by robbing a gas station in the Picardie region of northern France. The station manager immediately recognised the brothers and gave police a crucial tip off.

Finally driven to ground in a small town near Paris, the fugitives holed up with a hostage at a printing business.

A frame grab from footage taken on January 7  2015 shows hooded gunmen aiming Kalashnikov rifles tow...
A frame grab from footage taken on January 7, 2015 shows hooded gunmen aiming Kalashnikov rifles towards a police officer, before shooting him dead after leaving the office of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo
Jordi Mir, Courtesy of Jordi Mir/AFP

But their actions looked highly improvised, the duo even letting a man go free after he unwittingly came up to the front door. The brothers also never found out that another man was hiding inside the printing shop.

When commandos closed in for the kill, the two men who had plunged France into its worst terrorism crisis for decades had no more tricks left -- and went out shooting to die in a blaze of gunfire.

"They didn't think they could get out (of the Charlie Hebdo office) and certainly they hadn't planned their escape as carefully as they had the attack on the magazine," a second police source said. "Afterwards, they were clearly improvising."

- Dangerous new breed -

Experts say the Kouachis could signal a dangerous new breed of radical, but otherwise clear-headed youngsters who have weapons proficiency.

Alain Chouet, a former external intelligence service officer, told AFP that mistakes like leaving behind the identity card were less important than the techniques seen during the rest of the assault.

"What I find very worrying is that we're no longer talking about psychotics, as it was in the case of Mohamed Merah," he said, referring to a massacre at a Jewish school in March 2012 in Toulouse.

This screengrab taken on January 11  2015 from a video released on Islamist social networks shows a ...
This screengrab taken on January 11, 2015 from a video released on Islamist social networks shows a man allegedly claiming to be Amedy Coulibaly
-, Off TV/AFP

"They were well trained and calm, but just as much as any gang of bad guys from the suburbs who launch an attack on an armoured (bank) vehicle with military weapons," he said.

"We are witnessing a dangerous shift where we see the techniques of major banditry applied to something else, terrorism. That means there could be many more potential candidates, which is really worrying."

Eric Denece, director of the CF2R intelligence affairs think tank, highlighted "a definite improvement in the technique of their attack. But for the rest, for their exfiltration and survival in hiding, that was a lot less good."

The improvements that were displayed in the incident would not be hard to replicate, he said.

"What you must know is that in a few days you can train someone to use a Kalashnikov and move properly with a weapon."

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