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French jihadist linked to Charlie Hebdo killings arrested in Djibouti

A sketch of French jihadist Peter Chérif in court before his escape in 2011
A sketch of French jihadist Peter Chérif in court before his escape in 2011 BENOIT PEYRUCQ / AFP

Peter Chérif, one of the suspected masterminds of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, has been arrested by French police in Djibouti, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said Friday.

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A French judicial source told AFP that Chérif, 36-years-old, is not currently being held in connection with the deadly assault on the satirical magazine, nor as part of any French legal proceeding.

Also known as Abou Hamza, Chérif was arrested in Djibouti on Sunday after seven years on the run.

He is suspected of helping the Kouachi brothers plot the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.

Chérif and Said Kouachi were shot dead by French police days after the attack.

One of the most wanted terrorists in the world and on a US terror watch list since 2015, the Islam convert was first captured in Iraq in 2004 when he was fighting in the ranks of Al Qaeda.

Condemned to 15 years in a Baghdad prison, he managed to escaped in 2007 and headed for Syria.

Chérif was later extradited to France and incarcerated for 18 months before fleeing to Yemen.

Hopes of breakthrough

“It’s very good news because this terrorist played an important part in the planning of the attack against Charlie Hebdo,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly told RTL radio Friday.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was followed a day later by the killing of a trainee policewoman by Amedy Coulibaly, an Islamic State loyalist, also linked to Chérif.

Coulibaly went on to kill four people at a Jewish store before being shot by police.

French authorities hope Chérif's capture will provide a breakthrough in the investigation into the Charlie Hebdo and supermarket attacks.

“It shows the fight against terrorism is a long-haul action and that if you stay committed, you obtain results,” Parly said.

French prosecutors on Friday called for 14 people to be tried in connection with the January 2015 jihadist attacks, with Chérif yet to be named as one of those indicted.

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