France still on alert; terrorist sleeper cells activated

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(CNN) — French law enforcement officers have been told to erase their social media presence and to carry their weapons at all times because terror sleeper cells have been activated over the last 24 hours in the country, a French police source who attended a briefing Saturday told CNN Terror Analyst Samuel Laurent.

Ahmedy Coulibaly, a suspect killed Friday during a deadly Kosher market hostage siege, had made several phone calls about targeting police officers in France.

The alert came as the lone remaining suspect wanted in connection with a terrorism spree — Hayat Boumeddiene — entered Turkey on January 2, a Turkish prime ministry source told CNN Saturday.

Turkish police have tracked her movements, according to the source.

Boumeddiene is believed to have left for Turkey “of course to reach Syria” at the beginning of the year, according to a French source close to the nation’s security services.

If accurate, it could mean Boumeddiene was not in France at the time of Thursday’s deadly shooting of a policewoman in Paris, as authorities originally believed. Authorities offered no immediate explanation of the discrepancy, but have said she is wanted in connection with a terrorist attack.

Connecting the dots

A flurry of developments Saturday included claims linking one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers with the so-called underwear bomber, who sought to bring down a plane over Detroit in 2009.

The connection has not been confirmed by officials, and French investigators are still trying to piece together the web of connections between three suspects killed Friday as two sieges came to a bloody end. The country, meanwhile, continues to cope with three days of terror that left 17 people dead; hundreds gathered on the streets for vigils Saturday and hundreds of thousands were expected at massive rallies Sunday along with dignitaries from around the world.

The suspects killed were brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, authors of Wednesday’s deadly attack on the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo; and Amedy Coulibaly, suspected in the death of a French policewoman Thursday and the shootings and hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket Friday.

Investigators in France and the United States have been looking for evidence tying the Kouachi brothers to associates in terror networks such as al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate and ISIS.

A Yemeni journalist and researcher, Mohammed al-Kibsi, told CNN that he had met and spoken with Said Kouachi in Yemen in 2011 and 2012.

Kouachi, who was studying Arabic grammar, and underwear bomber Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab previously were roommates for one to two weeks in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, living in the same small apartment, al-Kibsi said. Abdulmutallab is serving a life sentence for trying to bring down a Northwest airlines flight over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with an underwear bomb.

Kouachi’s residence was very near to the famous Al-Tabari School and he and AbdulMutallab used to pray together there, said al-Kibsi by telephone Saturday. It wasn’t clear when they were roommates, but AbdulMutallab was arrested after the 2009 bombing attempt.

Al Kibsi said Kouachi first went to Yemen in 2009, and stayed until mid 2010 before leaving briefly and returning at the end of that year. Kouachi remained in Yemen most of 2011, according to Kibsi, who said he met the man twice.

U.S. officials have said Said Kouachi spent several months in Yemen in 2011, receiving weapons training and working with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

But there has been no official confirmation as of yet about the claim that he and AbdulMutallab were associates.

A senior Yemeni national security official told CNN that Kouachi entered Yemen multiple times with an officially issued visa.

“Said was not being watched during the duration of his stay in Yemen because he was not on the watch list,” said the official, adding that, at the time, Yemen’s western allies had not raised concerns about Kouachi. The official did not specify when the visits took place.

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