BEIRUT — Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen expanded Wednesday on its claim of responsibility for last week’s massacre at the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, calling it a “blessed battle of Paris” carried out as revenge for publishing images of the prophet Muhammad.
The 11-minute video, posted on the Web, coincided with the publication of the newspaper’s first edition since the attack, which left 12 people dead and began days of violence and intense police manhunts watched by the world.
The cover features a cartoon of Muhammad shedding a tear and holding a sign that says “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) under the headline: “Tout Est Pardonné” (All Is Forgiven).
The decision to immediately revisit a Muhammad caricature has brought complaints from some French Muslims and other groups — including an influential Islamic clerical body in Egypt — raising worries about possible backlash or violence.
In the video, a leader of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, Nasr al-Ansi, said it “chose the target, laid the plan, financed the operation.” He added that al-Qaeda’s overall chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, ordered the attack.
Ansi, the main ideological guide for the group, went on to praise the brothers who waged the newspaper attack, Chérif and Said Kouachi, as “heroes of Islam.”
A total of 17 people died over three days of bloodshed, which ended with twin police raids on Friday that also killed the two brothers and another gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who took hostages at a kosher supermarket.
The attacks, experts said, may reflect shifting tactics by terrorist groups toward commando-style assaults on less-protected targets as security and surveillance blankets other sites such as airlines and hotels. Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch had earlier put Charlie Hebdo on an enemies’ list.
The latest statement follows a previous claim of responsibility by the Yemen-based group last week, but appears to be have been timed with the new Charlie Hebdo edition — a huge press run that was selling fast.
The emotive religious language and militaristic bravado in the new release also could highlight growing competition with the Islamic State, whose stature among radical Islamists has risen rapidly with its gains in Iraq and Syria and declaration of a self-ruled “caliphate.”
In a video made public after his death, the supermarket hostage-taker Coulibaly claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, even though police also linked him directly to the Kouachi brothers, who were French citizens of Algerian descent. Coulibaly, who was of Senegalese ancestry, also was born in France.
Ansi commends Coulibaly, although there is no direct claim of responsibility for that incident.
“ISIS has taken the spotlight away from al-Qaeda, and so al-Qaeda has performed this act in Paris — and it will perform more such attacks unfortunately — in order to regain the prominence that it has lost,” said Ahmad Moussalli, an expert on Islamist movements who teaches at the American University of Beirut.
France’s parliament on Tuesday renewed the country’s participation airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. French President Francois Hollande, speaking aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle on Wednesday, said the ship could take in the international coalition against the Islamic State after a planned deployment in the Indian Ocean.
The al-Qaeda video — entitled “Vengeance for the Prophet: A Message Regarding the Blessed Battle of Paris” — included powerful imagery showing the Eiffel Tower dissolving into wisps of smoke, the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden firing an AK-47 rifle and footage of planes slamming into the World Trade Center towers during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“As for the blessed Battle of Paris: We in [AQAP] claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the messenger of Allah,” said Ansi, wearing a traditional Yemeni headdress.
Yemeni officials say that one of the Kouachi brothers visited Yemen and met with al-Qaeda figures who could have included Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born terror suspect who was killed in Yemen during a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Awlaki is shown in the latest video.
The video is likely to sharpen the direction of the investigation, which has been exploring suspected funding and training links between the attackers and al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, often called AQAP, which is considered one of the most active branches of the terror group.
At least 54 people have been detained since the attacks as part of the terrorism investigation, France’s Justice Ministry said.
“We tell you once again: Stop your insults on our prophet and sanctities. Stop spilling our blood. Leave our lands. Quit plundering our resources,” said Ansi in the video.
“Otherwise,” he warned, the world should “except tragedies and terror.”
Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, formed in 2009, has gained strength in recent months as it has taken more territory amid unraveling security in the country.
Last month, U.S. Special Operations forces raided an AQAP hideout in an attempt to free two hostages, American photojournalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie. Both were killed in the operation.
AQAP has been linked to several attempted attacks in recent years, including the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight in 2009 by an assailant with explosives sewn into his underwear.
In 2010, it attempted to ship bombs hidden in printing cartridges to two Jewish institutions in Chicago. The devices were uncovered in Britain and the United Arab Emirates.
But according to terrorism researcher Moussalli, AQAP remains the most extensive al-Qaeda branch in operation.
“They have sleeper cells all over the world,” he said, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if they attack in other cities, not just Paris.”
Murphy reported from Washington.