The bloody end of two hostage crises in a traumatized Paris means attention will shift to the gaping question facing the French government: How did several jihadists — and possibly a larger cell of co-conspirators — evade surveillance and execute a bold attack despite being well known to police and intelligence services? The New York Times says the slaughter that left 12 people dead at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo represented a major breakdown for French security and intelligence forces, especially because the two suspects, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, had known links to the militant group Al Qaeda in Yemen. “There is a clear failing,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French television. “When 17 people die, it means there were cracks.”
An American official said French intelligence and law enforcement agencies had conducted surveillance on one or both Kouachi brothers after Saïd returned from Yemen, but reduced monitoring or dropped it to focus on what were believed to be bigger threats. “These guys were known to be bad, and the French had tabs on them for a while,” said the official. “At some point, though, they allocated resources differently. They moved on to other targets.” The official acknowledged that American spy agencies tracked Westerners, particularly young men, traveling in and out of Yemen much more closely after a failed Qaeda plot to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day 2009. One reason for the lapses may be that the number of possible jihadists inside France risen sharply. France has seen 1,000 to 2,000 of its citizens go to fight in Syria or Iraq, with about 200 returning, and the task of surveillance has grown overwhelming.