How did the Charlie Hebdo Terrorists Plan Their Rampage?

french_police_car_1-17-14-1 Stop in the name of the law! Or the distinct lack thereof. (Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky /

So this time it was Paris.  Where next?

As relieved as we might be at the tracking down and killing of the Paris jihadists, the relief is short-lived.  Yes, three of them are dead, but how many others might there be out there?  In 2013, the Pew Research Center published a report on polling conducted in Muslim countries.  “Muslim Publics Share Concerns about Extremist Groups,” read Pew’s headline, an apparent effort to portray a level of moderation among Muslims that is belied in the report itself.  We are supposed to draw comfort from the news that 67 percent of respondents said they were concerned about Islamic extremism in their own countries, while 27 percent said they were unconcerned.  And while we can only speculate on what it might take to raise concern among that 27 percent, what are we to make of the fact that only 57 percent of respondents reported having an unfavorable view of Al Qaeda?  Or that 62 percent of residents in the Palestinian territories said that suicide bombings can often or sometimes be justified?

And by now it’s well established that very little in the way of provocation is required to spur some Muslims to mass murder.  Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were motivated by cartoons, of all things.  It is just as well established that Western elites are in blithe denial about the scope of the problem, an attitude illustrated, to cite just one glorious example, in a recent Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times.  “Small numbers of terrorists make headlines,” he writes, “but they aren’t representative of a complex and diverse religion of 1.6 billion adherents.”

True enough, Mr. Kristof, but if only 1 percent of those 1.6 billion Muslims harbor an inclination toward violent jihad, that puts Western civilization up against a force of 16 million people.  Given the havoc caused by only three of them in Paris last week, or by two of them in Boston in 2013, or by ten of them in Mumbai in 2008, or by 19 of them on September 11, 2001, to cite only four on a very long list of examples, how many headlines are you willing to see written about Muslim atrocities before you concede there is a problem festering within Islam itself?

So, while Mr. Kristof and his kind worry about an always feared but never manifested anti-Muslim backlash, the more sober-minded are set to the task of preventing attacks and preparing for an effective response should one occur.  Which brings us to the Charlie Hebdo attack and the lessons that might be drawn from it.

As I watched on television as the events unfolded in Paris, I tried to orient myself to the killers’ movements both before and after the assault in the Charlie Hebdo offices.  How did the killers arrive at the location?  How many were there?  How were they armed?  How had they been trained?  How did they plan their getaway?  Did they have additional targets?  I tried to imagine myself on those Paris streets and responding to the report of gunfire.  Where would I go first?  What kind of cover would be available?  Had bombs been placed nearby to kill the mass of first responders that would soon collect at the scene of the crime?