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French jihadist charged over 2011 kidnapping in Yemen

Peter Cherif was caught in Djibouti after arriving from Yemen carrying fake ID documents [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 March, 2019

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French authorities arrested Peter Cherif three months ago when he was caught in Djibouti after arriving from Yemen carrying fake ID documents.

A French jihadist arrested in December after years of fighting in the Middle East has been charged with the 2011 kidnapping of three French aid workers in Yemen, judicial sources said on Wednesday.

Peter Cherif, 36, had been facing terrorism conspiracy charges for joining al-Qaeda when he managed to escape during his trial in Paris in March 2011.

His name surfaced again when it emerged Cherif was close to the brothers who massacred staff members at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

In 2017, investigators opened a new investigation into his activities in Yemen, where he joined the senior ranks of the local branch of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

French authorities finally arrested him three months ago when he was caught in Djibouti after arriving from Yemen carrying fake ID documents.

Cherif was charged with the Yemen kidnappings last month by anti-terror judges investigating his case, the judicial source told AFP.

The three aid workers for the French NGO Triangle Generation Humanitaire, aged 25 to 30, were seized on May 28, 2011, and held for five months before being released.

He was first arrested in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but managed to escape and go to Syria, where he was again caught and extradited to France.

He has been a figure of interest for French police investigating a trio of attacks in January 2015 that left 17 people dead, including at Charlie Hebdo's offices and a kosher supermarket in Paris. 

But despite media reports suggesting he may have played a role in the attacks, he has not been formally charged in the Charlie Hebdo probe.

The attack on the magazine marked the start of a wave of jihadist attacks in France which have claimed more than 240 lives.

Cherif, also known as Abou Hamza, was placed on the US blacklist of foreign terrorists in 2015.

The US considers the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to be the radical group's most dangerous branch.

Drone attacks against AQAP intensified after US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

AQAP has flourished in the chaos of the impoverished country's civil war, which pits the Saudi-backed government against Houthi rebels.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015, according to UN figures, although local rights group believe the toll to be five times higher.

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