PARIS (AP) — French authorities confirmed on Friday the arrest of a suspected extremist linked to the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine that killed 12 people.
The Paris prosecutor's office confirmed the arrest after French media reported that French citizen Peter Cherif, also known as Abu Hamza, had been arrested in Djibouti.
Speaking to RTL radio, the minister for the armed forces, Florence Parly, welcomed "very good news because this terrorist played an important role in organizing the Charlie Hebdo attack."
On Jan. 7, 2015, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi killed 11 people at Charlie Hebdo's office, and a policeman in a nearby street. In the following days, their associate Amedy Coulibaly killed a policewoman outside Paris and four people during a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket. The three attackers were killed in shootouts with police.
A judicial official who is not authorized to speak publicly said Cherif is not being held at the request of French authorities.
Cherif was a close friend of the Kouachi brothers. He was among a group of Paris youths who left for Iraq in late 2003 and early 2004. Two were killed, one as a suicide bomber, another in a bomb explosion. He was arrested in December 2004 in Fallujah and held for 19 months by U.S. troops, then turned over to the Iraqis and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
He escaped from an Iraqi prison but was recaptured in Syria and deported to France. In March 2011, a Paris court sentenced him to five years in prison for criminal association linked to terrorism and issued a warrant when he failed to turn up for the verdict. He had been on the run since then.
Meanwhile, the Paris prosecutor's office, which handles terror cases in France, released a list of 14 people charged with providing assistance to the Kouachis or Coulibaly. Cherif was not on the list.