A lethal al Qaeda affiliate gave one of the Charlie Hebdo shooters $20,000 for terrorist operations three years ago, but the U.S. has not found evidence the group directed last week's massacre in Paris, two counter-terrorism officials told ABC News today.
Al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate AQAP said overnight it's leadership "chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation" and called the shooters, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, "heroes."
The officials said signals intercept records so far have not uncovered any communications between the brothers and known AQAP figures in recent months, indicating that while brothers may have been initially funded by the terror group, they could have carried out the operation without immediate, direct support from AQAP-proper.
"This could change, but so far we haven't found evidence AQAP was talking to the brothers recently," one of the officials said.
The officials also said it was Cherif Kouachi who traveled to Yemen in 2011 and may have met with high-profile American al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. U.S. officials had previously said Said had made that trip, but it now appears Cherif traveled on his brother's identification.
In the AQAP video, a high-level member of the group, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, said the Charlie Hebdo the attack that killed 12 people last Wednesday was done following the will of the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and that "arrangements" were made by al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011, five months after bin Laden was killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs in Pakistan.
Al-Ansi does not say AQAP directed the second attack in Paris, the one carried out by Amedy Coulibaly in which he killed five people including a police officer, but Al-Ansi praises him as well. In a video made before Coulibaly was killed by police last Friday, he claims he's a member of ISIS, a rival terrorist group to al Qaeda.
Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo, called a local television station shortly before they too were killed by police last Friday and said they had been financed by AQAP, specifically by al-Awlaki.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said today the U.S. intelligence community believes the video itself to be an authentic AQAP video, but said the community is "not assessing whether the claims being made in the video are valid."
Earlier today, White House National Security Council spokesperson Alistair Baskey said, "If genuine, this is only the latest example of the wanton brutality that is al Qaeda's calling card and which it has visited upon innocents of all faiths."
Prior to this most recent AQAP video, al-Ansi appeared in another clip from the terror group making the demands for the release of American hostage Luke Somers late last year. Somers was killed in a failed rescue attempt by U.S. special operations forces in early December 2014.