Yemen’s president said on Tuesday his country was a victim not an exporter of “terrorism” after it emerged one of the Paris gunmen received training from al-Qaeda in the violence-torn country.
Said Kouachi, one of the two brothers behind the attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, travelled to Yemen in 2011 and received weapons and training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), security sources said.
His brother Cherif meanwhile told French television before he was shot dead by police that he was acting on behalf of Yemen-based AQAP.
But President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi told French ambassador Jean-Marc Grosgurin on Tuesday that Yemen had been the victim of jihadist violence ever since 1998, when militants seized 16 Western tourists leading to a shootout in which four of the hostages were killed.
“We affirm that Yemen has suffered greatly from the terrorism exported to it from abroad, and is not, as some say, an exporter of terror,” he said.
Hadi voiced his country’s “full solidarity with the French people and the families of the victims” of last week’s shootings which left 17 people dead.
He noted that on the same day that Charlie Hebdo was attacked, 40 people were killed in the Yemeni capital in a car bombing targeting would-be police recruits.
“This proves that terrorism does not draw a distinction between one country and another… or one religion and another,” said Hadi.
AQAP was formed in January 2009 as a merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al-Qaeda.
Washington regards it as the worldwide jihadist network’s most dangerous branch and has carried out a sustained drone war against its leaders.
But Yemen has been wracked by political turmoil and violence since an uprising toppled strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, creating a power vacuum that the jihadists have sought to exploit.
Charlie Hebdo has been on AQAP’s target list for years and al-Qaeda’s late leader Osama bin Laden warned Europe in 2008 of consequences for Prophet Mohammad cartoons which were reproduced in the French weekly.
On Friday, senior AQAP official Harith al-Nadhari threatened France with further attacks like those at Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, SITE Intelligence reported.