TIME China

China Steps in to Support Venezuela and Ecuador as Oil Prices Tumble

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Chinese President Xi Jinping chat after reviewing an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Jan. 7, 2015.
Andy Wong—AFP/Getty Images Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Chinese President Xi Jinping chat after reviewing an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Jan. 7, 2015.

President Xi Jinping eyes doubling of trade volumes within 10 years and promises $250 billion of investment to Latin America

China stepped up its courtship of Latin American countries Thursday, promising to double trade with the region by 2025 and offering fresh loans to support left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador.

At a meeting in Beijing with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, President Xi Jinping said that annual bilateral trade would rise to $500 billion over the next 10 years, and that China would invest some $250 billion in the region in that period.

That would threaten the U.S.’s traditional pre-eminence as the region’s biggest trading partner, inevitably diluting its political clout there.

However, it’s not clear quite how Xi arrived at his figures. Although trade and investment have rocketed in the last 20 years as China has sucked up natural resources from around the world to fuel its industrialization, growth slowed sharply in the first 11 months of last year, as China refocused its economy on domestic demand.

According to CELAC figures, trade volumes grew only 1.3% year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2014. Despite that, China remains the biggest buyer for Venezuelan oil, Chilean copper and Argentinian soybeans, among other things.

Of more immediate impact than Xi’s promises Thursday were agreements to bankroll the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador, two of the most viscerally anti-U.S. regimes in the region and two oil exporters who are struggling with the consequences of the 60% drop in oil prices since the start of last year.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was reported as saying that he had secured over $20 billion in investment from the state-owned institutions Bank of China and China Development Bank, adding to over $45 billion in the last 10 years. He didn’t give details of the loans’ terms.

Ecuador, meanwhile, said it had agreed a new $5.3 billion credit line with China’s Export-Import Bank and $2.2 billion in other funding.

Venezuela’s 2-year bonds are currently yielding 62.6%, reflecting widespread expectations that it will default if the price of oil, which accounts for over 90% of Venezuela’s exports, doesn’t recover. It’s not clear whether the new loans will be available for servicing government debts. Ecuador’s 10-year bonds, which were sold at a yield of below 8% last summer, now yield 11.25%, according to Bloomberg.

China had stepped up its economic diplomacy in Latin America last year with $30 billion in concessionary loans and the establishment of a $5 billion co-operation fund. That’s part of a broader policy of setting up new institutions to channel its economic influence, after the U.S. failed to implement agreements on allowing emerging countries such as China a bigger say in running the International Monetary Fund.

In November, China announced the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which many see as a direct rival to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which has traditionally been dominated by the U.S. and Japan.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Television

Watch Conan O’Brien Talk About the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Conan O’Brien and other American talk show hosts used part of their segments last night to talk about yesterday’s terrorist attack on a satirical publication in Paris that left 12 dead.

“There was a terrible tragedy in France today; 12 people were killed because a satirical newspaper made jokes that some group found offensive,” he said, continuing that the news “really hits home for anyone who, day in and day out, mocks political, social and religious figures.”

Watch the rest of Conan’s clip here.

Read next: Louis C.K. Shows Solidarity By Wearing a Charlie Hebdo Shirt on Stage

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME France

Mosques Attacked in France Following Charlie Hebdo Attack

French police forensic scour the scene of an explosion at a kebab shop damaged following an explosion near a mosque, on Jan. 8, 2015, in Villefranche-sur-Saone, eastern France.
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek—AFP/Getty Images French police forensic scour the scene of an explosion at a kebab shop damaged following an explosion near a mosque, on Jan. 8, 2015, in Villefranche-sur-Saone, eastern France.

No reports of injuries

Several French mosques were attacked following the killing of 12 people at the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, according to reports.

Around 8pm local time on Wednesday, shots were fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall in Port-la-Nouvelle in southern France. Meanwhile Ouest-France reports that several percussion grenades were thrown into the courtyard of a mosque in Le Mans, west of Paris.

Local media also reported an explosion near a mosque in the town of Villefranche-sur-Saône in eastern France. The blast took place at 6am local time on Thursday at L’Imperial, a restaurant independently managed by people close to the mosque, where people attending the mosque often gather. There were no casualties reported. Le Progres quotes the town’s deputy mayor, Bernard Perrut, as saying he feared it was linked to Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo attack.

Read next: What We Know About the Two Men Being Hunted in France

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Middle East

The Path to Peace

vanAgtmael_11.JPG
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos A Palestinian man prays in a Gaza neighborhood destroyed during the war last year between Hamas and Israel

Chaos in the Middle East is sowing the seeds for an unlikely alliance between Israel and the Arab states

On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia–Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal–sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had “crossed the Rubicon” and “don’t want to fight Israel anymore.”

The Turki-Yadlin dialogue was not “official,” but it sent a clear message. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah had personally approved the meeting, intending it as an olive branch to the Israelis. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to reciprocate–at least not openly. It was too dangerous politically. Crucial components of Netanyahu’s coalition, especially his supporters among right-wing Jewish settlers in the West Bank, oppose any deal with Palestinians.

And yet, in the months after he decided against a public gesture to the Saudis, Netanyahu was suggesting at private meals with editors and influential figures at the U.N. General Assembly meetings last September that an alliance with the Arabs was not only possible but perhaps the best way to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Other odd things have been happening recently in the gridlocked Middle East. On New Year’s Day, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi made an interesting speech, challenging Islamic radicalism and calling for a Muslim reformation. “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred,” he said, “should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!” The sentiments were not unexpected, since al-Sisi had come to power by overthrowing the country’s democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leaders in 2013. (Al-Sisi won a largely uncontested presidential election last year.) But these are not sentiments that have often been uttered publicly by Arab leaders before.

And then, the very next day, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and exiled Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan had met privately in Paris. Dahlan has made no secret of his desire to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; Lieberman is a conservative who has fallen out with Netanyahu and wants to be part of a coalition to replace him. So what on earth were Dahlan and Lieberman talking about?

All of this may add up to nothing. But there seems to be a growing impatience with the perpetual status quo in the region. There is a new generation of leaders pushing for power in Israel and Palestine. There are dangerous new threats like ISIS. There is concern about the U.S.–the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran, the waning need for Middle East oil. There is the memory of the Arab Spring, which ultimately produced chaos instead of democracy.

The established powers in the region, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have found in recent years that they have increasingly aligned foreign policy interests. The Israelis and Saudis have been sharing intelligence for the past few years, according to regional sources. The Israelis and Egyptians are cooperating on security efforts in Sinai and in Gaza, where Hamas–the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood–is a common enemy. There are private talks going on between Israeli and Saudi Arabian officials. “It might be called mushroom diplomacy,” an Israeli told me. “It can only grow in the dark.”

Most Israeli and Arab officials I spoke with during a December tour of the region acknowledge the mushrooms and hope that the burgeoning relationships–especially the acceptance of Israel as a de facto ally–can be brought to light in time. There are, of course, all the usual roadblocks, including the eternal one: nothing can happen publicly without an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. The Saudis and the Arab League promised to recognize Israel in 2002 if such a deal were made, but the Arab terms–a return to 1967 borders, with Palestinians’ right of return to their former lands in Israel–were unacceptable to the Israelis. Now those terms may be changing. Prince Turki described the proposal as a “framework,” which implies room to maneuver.

Is it possible that the Middle East has become so unstable that an Arab-Israeli peace is no longer unthinkable?

The ISIS Effect

As 2015 begins, the Middle East seems to be a greater mess than it ever was–especially when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The deterioration began with Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza last summer, which increased the popularity of Hamas in the West Bank and has led Abbas to take a series of steps toward the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority applied for membership in the International Criminal Court–a red flag to the Israelis because the Palestinians would presumably use membership to bring war-crimes charges against Israel. In return, the Israelis have cut off the monthly payment of taxes they collect for the PA, which represent almost 80% of the government’s $160 million monthly budget. It is possible that the Palestinians could retaliate by suspending government operations in the West Bank–schools, health care and, especially, security. Chaos would be the likely result.

In the rest of the region, the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi’ite has become more dangerous, even as it has become more confusing. The Sunni Arab nations–which include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states–have worried for a decade that the U.S. demolition of Saddam Hussein’s ugly but stable dictatorship in Iraq has created a power vacuum in a broad swath of the region that the Iranians are exploiting. They call it the “Shi’ite crescent,” a sphere of influence stretching from Hizballah-controlled southern Lebanon and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria, to Iraq and Iran, right up to the border of the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, a majority-Shi’ite area where most of the country’s oil is produced.

But the old Sunni-Shi’ite conflict has been complicated by a new threat in the region: ISIS, a Sunni radical military force vastly more competent and frightening than al-Qaeda. ISIS began in Iraq but made its mark in the rebellion against Assad’s government in Syria. Assad isn’t well liked by his Sunni neighbors–and some of them, like Qatar and perhaps private sources in Saudi Arabia, gave surreptitious support to ISIS and other Sunni militias in the early days of the rebellion.

The lightning march ISIS made through Iraq last year changed the equation. An ISIS-controlled Iraq would be a threat not only to Iran but also to some of the Sunni royal families in the region, as well as Egypt. The Jordanians–already overwhelmed by refugees from Iraq, Syria and Palestine–are vulnerable. The Saudis, governed by an increasingly feeble gerontocracy–the 90-year-old Abdullah was hospitalized with pneumonia at the start of the new year–are worried too. The Egyptians are fighting ISIS-style terrorists in Sinai and are threatened by Libyan militias, which may also be loosely affiliated with ISIS.

In response, a heterodox alliance has gathered to make war with ISIS. Iranian-backed militias, like Hizballah, are the most ardent fighters in this war, along with the Kurds. But they are now joined by U.S. airpower–as well as pilots from Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Another potentially major change in the region: the Israelis, Iranians, Saudis and Egyptians are increasingly concerned about Turkey, which sees the ISIS threat somewhat differently from its neighbors. Turkey has allegedly allowed thousands of militants to cross its border and join ISIS because the group is fighting Assad and militant Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turks see as a permanent threat in the south and east of their country. (Turkey has acknowledged that its border with Syria is porous but has denied accusations that it purposefully allows militants to cross.) “Why aren’t you Americans making more of a fuss about Turkey’s support for ISIS?” a prominent Egyptian official asked me. “I read a lot more about our humanitarian problems in the American press than I do about the Turks who are allowing terrorists to cross their border and behead Americans.”

Of course, the “humanitarian problems” in Egypt are very real, as al-Sisi’s forces have led a brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptians have become sensitive to the point of paranoia about the changing U.S. role in the region. I had dinner in Cairo with a group of prominent leaders. One of them, a banker, asked seriously, “Is it true that there is a secret alliance between Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize the existing Sunni governments in the region?”

I started to laugh, but none of the Egyptians at the table were smiling. They didn’t buy the banker’s conspiracy theory, but they laid out an array of charges, ranging from the (pre-Obama) Iraq invasion to the President’s support for the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak to the Administration’s recent slow walk of military supplies, especially spare parts, to the al-Sisi government. “Doesn’t he want us to be fighting ISIS in Sinai?” asked the banker.

The Obama Administration maintains that all al-Sisi has to do is free some political prisoners–especially those who are American and three jailed journalists from al-Jazeera who were accused, implausibly, of joining a terrorist group and broadcasting “false news”–and the military support will flow again. The Administration argues that its overall policy–steering clear of neocolonial adventurism like the 2003 invasion of Iraq and working to bring Iran back into the international community–has been more effective than George W. Bush’s neoconservatism. Obama aides also point out that there are two U.S. naval fleets in the region, plus U.S. bases in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Djibouti. “Does that sound like disengagement?” one of them asked me. “We’re not going anywhere.”

From Washington, the region seems a jigsaw puzzle ruled by anarchic moving pieces–a disproportionate source of concern that leaches attention from growing problems in Russia and East Asia. From Cairo and Riyadh and Jerusalem, though, the U.S. seems a fickle ally that can’t decide whether its policy is to support stability or the naive hope for democracy in a region that isn’t ready for it.

The modern Middle East was stabilized, in a toxic but effective way, by the Cold War, when partnership with superpowers provided security and economic aid. In the 21st century, the USSR is gone and the U.S. no longer has the incentive, or the money, to lavish vast aid packages on local clients. But the nations of the Middle East have been unable to wean themselves from their dependency on outside forces. “Whenever we’re in trouble we dial 911,” an Arab diplomat told me. “But it is illogical to think the U.S. was created to protect the Sunnis.”

With few other options, the Arabs have returned to an old idea, which was mostly bluster in the past–that they must unite to protect themselves. And any serious conversation about security and economic development has to include the one nation in the region that has succeeded at both: Israel. There is no love for the Israelis, but there is respect. And so there is a hope–a conversation that is occurring across the Arab states–that perhaps the only alternative is to bank on the regional forces of stability to create a security alliance against the extremist threat of both Shi’ite and Sunni militias. Even if that means partnering with Israel.

Strange Bedfellows

Is such an alliance even vaguely possible? History says no, vehemently. But in the days before Netanyahu’s government collapsed in December, Israeli intelligence sources–usually the most skeptical people in the country–were allowing tiny shreds of hope to creep into their calculations. The common security interests with the Arabs were compelling, several of them told me, and might lead to new arrangements in the region. It was not impossible that the Arabs could help broker a peace deal with the Palestinians. The Egyptians could help provide security; the Saudis and Gulf states could provide funds for Palestinian economic development.

For that to happen, though, Israel would need to make changes of its own. “These governments can’t be seen to be cooperating with Israel as long as there isn’t a deal with the Palestinians,” said one intelligence expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “ISIS can turn the Arab street, especially their young people, against them. It’s bad enough that [the U.S.] is dropping bombs on Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. That strengthens [ISIS] on the street as well.”

At the heart of this conundrum stands Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister may have been selling an alliance with the Arabs in New York, but he’s been selling intransigence back home. That includes a new law that would make Israel a “Jewish” state–with the implication of second-class citizenship for its 1.7 million Arab citizens. His insistence on pushing that law resulted in the collapse of his government, as moderate parties led by Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid refused to support the legislation.

Netanyahu is no longer very popular in Israel, but no one is betting against him in the March election. Given his political skills, the absence of a charismatic mainstream challenger and the steady tattoo of terrorist incidents–stabbings, shootings, cars running over pedestrians–most observers assume that Netanyahu will prevail somehow, though he might even struggle to maintain control of his Likud Party. The rising tide seems to be with the settler-movement leader Naftali Bennett, whose party might well outpoll Likud in March. It is also possible that the moderate-liberal coalition of the Labor Party and the splinter party of Livni’s supporters will challenge Likud for first place in the March election and the right to attempt to form a government of its own.

The real negotiations begin after the election. Netanyahu will try again to cobble together a centrist coalition. The big question is whether he will have to include Bennett in a government; if so, there will be no hope of Israel’s negotiating a deal with the Palestinians–and no hope of closer public ties with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

But there are other possibilities as well. If Labor-Livni polls strongly and is joined by Lapid’s centrist party, they may find a partner in Avigdor Lieberman. The Foreign Minister and leader of the Israel Beitenu party ran a crass, anti-Arab campaign last time. “But Lieberman plays a different game inside the government than he does outside,” says Shai Feldman, director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies. “As Foreign Minister, he’s had to deal with the leaders of other countries. He’s more of a realist now.” But he’s also less of a political force, as recent polls show support for his party waning dramatically because of renewed corruption charges against Lieberman. “It is absolutely impossible to predict how this election is going to turn out,” Feldman says.

The New Generation

Netanyahu has been at the center of Israeli politics for nearly 25 years. Abbas has been a force in Palestinian politics even longer. But a new generation of leaders is rising, which is why the Lieberman-Dahlan meeting in Paris was noteworthy, at the very least. One thing the two men have in common, despite their wildly divergent politics, is that both believe the Netanyahu-Abbas era is coming to a close.

Dahlan is perhaps the most skilled of the next generation of Palestinian leaders, although he developed a well-deserved reputation as a thug when he led the Palestinian security services in Gaza. He is a young-looking 53, a protégé of Yasser Arafat’s and a native Gazan. He’s also the sworn enemy of Abbas, who accused Dahlan of corruption and convicted him in a show trial; Dahlan has been living in Abu Dhabi since 2011. He has already announced that he will run for President of the PA against Abbas–who is supremely unpopular–should Abbas ever call the Palestinian election that has been long delayed. But Dahlan’s strategy is more expansive than a one-on-one fight with Abbas. His hope is to create a new coalition that would appeal to people across the Palestinian political spectrum, from Hamas to Fatah.

How could he manage that? By forming an alliance with a Palestinian leader currently sitting in an Israeli prison. Marwan Barghouti, 55, is considered a folk hero by both Hamas and Fatah. He was a prominent leader of the first and second intifadehs before he was arrested by the Israelis in 2002 and sentenced to five continuous life terms for murder. Barghouti’s wife has already announced her support for a movement to draft him for President. Dahlan’s vision is that Barghouti would be the titular head of the PA from inside prison and Dahlan himself would be the hands-on guy, running the show from Ramallah, while former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, widely considered Palestine’s most effective bureaucrat, would administer the West Bank.

Netanyahu has long lamented the fact that he doesn’t have a “strong” partner on the Palestinian side. Abbas has never had the support among his people to cut a deal, and his predecessor Arafat had little desire to do so. But a government led by Barghouti or Dahlan could hardly be considered weak, and a Barghouti-Dahlan coalition would be formidable. The question of what to do with Barghouti–whether to release him or not–has been discussed by Netanyahu’s inner circle. At this point, Barghouti’s political views are a mystery; he has been described as “Mandela-esque” and utterly unrepentant.

Dahlan has been meeting with Arab leaders across the region. He is close to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and also to Egypt’s al-Sisi. His aspirations parallel Netanyahu’s: that the Arab states could be brought into the talks as intermediaries. Dahlan hopes the Arabs will nudge the Israelis to make concessions; Netanyahu hopes that the Arabs will nudge the Palestinians to make concessions. But the bottom line is the same: visions of commercial cooperation that transforms ports in Gaza and Haifa into Middle Eastern Singapores; visions of a security alliance strong enough to fend off Islamic radicalism, both Shi’ite and Sunni.

The only thing preventing all this is what usually gets in the way in the Middle East–reality. Here is what might also happen in 2015: Israel might elect a right-wing government that wants nothing to do with the Arabs. The West Bank may fall into chaos as the PA struggles without the funds necessary to keep its security forces in operation. The U.S. might make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. The U.S. might not make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. King Abdullah might pass away in Saudi Arabia. The moderate Jordanian government might be overwhelmed by the tide of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Bashar Assad might fall, or survive, with consequences for the Kurds, the Turks and the Lebanese. Libyan militias might find common cause with ISIS. The rickety new government in Iraq might collapse.

Any of these events is more likely to occur than a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, brokered by the Arabs. But the fact that the conversation is taking place–between Prince Turki and Amos Yadlin, between Mohammed Dahlan and Avigdor Lieberman, secretly at the U.N. and in capitals across the region–means that peace, the most unlikely Middle East result, is no longer off the table.

TIME France

Watch Jon Stewart’s Take on the Charlie Hebdo Killings

The comedian comes out for "Team Civilization"

On Wednesday night’s episode of The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart addressed the terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, including eight journalists. Though the comedian is known for his own satirical spin on the news, Stewart was serious and straight-faced while discussing the attack.

“I know very few people go into comedy as an act of courage, mainly because it shouldn’t have to be that,” the comedian said. “It shouldn’t be an act of courage, it should be taken as established law. But those guys at Hebdo had it and they were killed for their cartoons.”

“A stark reminder that for the most part the legislators and journalists and institutions that we jab and ridicule are not in any way the enemy. For however frustrating or outraged the back and forth can become it’s still back and forth, a conversation amongst those on let’s call it ‘Team Civilization.’ And this type of violence only clarifies that reality.”

TIME France

Suspects in Charlie Hebdo Attack Evade Authorities for a Second Day

People in France and around the world mourned the 12 people killed

The two brothers who are prime suspects in the deadly terrorist attack that killed 12 people in Paris managed to evade capture for a second day on Thursday, as France endured a national day of mourning that accompanied vigils around the world.

The brothers appeared to have sought refuge Thursday about 50 miles northeast of the French capital, as thousands of police mounted a furious manhunt to find them. As night fell in France amid large vigils and a national day of mourning, the suspects had not yet been apprehended. Dozens had been questioned in the investigation and nine people police said were close to the suspects had been detained, the Associated Press reports, but what if any connection they had to the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo remained unclear.

“France has been struck directly in the heart of its capital, in a place where the spirit of liberty — and thus of resistance — breathed freely,” French President François Hollande said. On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama visited the French embassy in Washington, D.C., to sign a guest book of condolences.

MORE: What to Know About the Paris Terrorist Attack

The day of mourning coincided with a closely watched manhunt and with authorities saying their primary concern was preventing another attack. At about 10 a.m. Thursday, residents in the town of Villers-Cotterêt in the Aisne district of Picardie said they had spotted the two men, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, driving through the town, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Later on Thursday morning, the brothers stole food and gas from a local gas station, according to France 3 Picardie, the local television channel. They later fled, abandoning the car, and an unnamed police source told the French news agency Agence France-Presse that they had found black jihadist flags and homemade firebombs in the vehicle.

Reports on local and social media suggested the search was focused on the Villiers-Cotterêt area, including the town of Crépy-en-Valois, the village of Abbaye de Longpont and surrounding forest. The Ministry of the Interior extended its area of high alert on Thursday evening from Paris to also include the Villers-Cotterêt area.

While Hollande’s government vowed to capture them quickly, the more worrying question is this: How did well-known hard-liners who have been under surveillance for years for their jihadist views succeed in pulling off a spectacular assault under the noses of the French police?

The prime suspects for the Charlie Hebdo massacre — Saïd, 34, and his brother Chérif, 32 — were born of Algerian immigrant parents in Paris’ 10th District; police believe they came home last summer after fighting with jihadist groups in Syria. A third suspect gave himself up to police in Paris after his name was mentioned in social media. Classmates of Mourad Hamyd, 18, said he was in class with them at the time of the attack. They launched a hashtag campaign #MouradHamydInnocent as evidence of his innocence.

The brothers were orphaned at a young age and raised in foster care in the city of Rennes, according to the French paper Libération. Astonishingly, the police zeroed in on the two after Saïd left his national identity card in the Citroën car that the two used to flee from the police on Wednesday, according to French media reports. Their faces are now on wanted posters on public buildings across France, with police appealing to people to look out for the brothers and to report any information about their whereabouts.

The Kouachi brothers were still on the run on Thursday morning. Hundreds of riot police raided a low-income housing complex in the northeastern city of Reims overnight, where the older brother, Saïd lived, according to French media. One neighbor told RTL Television that he was “a guy I pass regularly in the stairs while leaving the building.”

But while the Kouachi brothers’ location was a mystery on Thursday morning, the political history of one of them was not.

Chérif Kouachi was part of a network of militants from Paris’ 19th District, a relatively poor area with a high number of immigrants on the northeastern edge of the city, that found ready recruits for jihadist activities after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Chérif tried to go to fight in Iraq by traveling through Syria but was arrested on the way.

Although not originally a devout Muslim, Chérif allegedly joined the jihad after seeing the photographs of abuse by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. He later described to police how an imam in his neighborhood had recruited youths to fight against U.S. forces in Iraq, according to the New York Times, which wrote about him and his friends in 2005.

Although he himself never made it to the battlefield in Iraq in 2004, he was sentenced in 2008 to three years imprisonment after a dramatic trial and served 18 months in jail. In a chilling echo to today’s anxieties about the French citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq, the police at the time warned that the French youths drafted to fight for al-Qaeda in Iraq “could use Iraqi battlefield skills in terror attacks back in France,” the Associated Press reported at the time.

French investigative-news program Pièces à Convictions also reported on him in 2005 while he was in prison. According to the program, Chérif preferred rap music and hanging out with girls to going to the mosque.

But within months he became a dedicated student of a man called Farid Bennyatou, whom he met regularly. Chérif is cited in the video saying that “Farid told me that the texts demonstrate the benefit of suicide attacks. It is written in these texts that it is good to die as a martyr.” The television program describes how Chérif became convinced very quickly that he too wanted to fight. His preparations for doing so were amateurish: a few jogs around the park and a short meeting with a supposed arms specialist who explained how to use a Kalashnikov.

“Thanks to Farid’s advice, my doubts faded. I was scared but didn’t say so. It’s evident that Farid influenced me in my departure, in that he gave me a justification for my imminent death,” he says in the video.

French newspaper Le Point notes that police raids of Chérif’s home in 2010 uncovered radical Islamist photographs, videos and speeches from al-Qaeda, while his browsing history revealed Chérif had consulted many web pages related to radical Islam and jihad; child pornography was also found on his hard drive.

Read next: The Provocative History of French Weekly Newspaper Charlie Hebdo

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Strongman President Could Be Facing a Poll Upset

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures to the media after casting his vote for the presidential election, in Medamulana
Dinuka Liyanawatte—REUTERS Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures to the media after casting his vote for the presidential election, in Medamulana, January 8, 2015.

Two months ago it looked like it would be landslide victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa, but now things are far from certain

Sri Lanka went to the polls on Thursday, kicking off an election that could result in the biggest shake-up of its government in over a decade.

Thousands lined up to vote at more than 12,000 polling stations across the country after the polls opened at 7 a.m. local time, with local media reporting that most districts had showed a turnout of 30 to 40% within the first three hours.

The snap election was called by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November, about two years before the conclusion of his second term, with a view to consolidating the power and control he has been steadily centralizing since he first took the helm in 2005. Rajapaksa’s decisive re-election in 2010, following the 2009 defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers that ended a 26-year civil war, has been bolstered by steady economic growth and stability in the past four years.

But the straightforward victory he anticipated while calling the election is far from certain, and the president has been reduced to urging voters to elect him, “the devil they know,” over an “unknown angel,” as Reuters reports.

The unknown angel he refers to is Mithripala Sirisena, a former minister and key Rajapaksa lieutenant whose sudden defection in November blindsided the president and was followed by an exodus of dozens of others. The hitherto fractured opposition has since rallied behind Sirisena, who promises to crack down on the corruption and nepotism that many say has set in under Rajapaksa’s rule. His son and two brothers rule alongside him, and several relatives occupy key posts in what academic Razeen Sally called the country’s “one-family show” in a Wall Street Journal column last month.

Should it come to power, the Sirisena-led opposition reportedly plans to do away with the presidency altogether and revert to a British-style parliamentary democracy, according to the Financial Times, undoing the constitutional reforms that allowed Rajapaksa to run for an unprecedented third term.

While Rajapaksa is relying on an uptick in Sri Lanka’s economic growth and the support of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, Sirisena enjoys an almost unequivocal backing from the island nation’s minority groups including Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The former government minister’s anti-corruption stance has reportedly also appealed to a section of the Sinhalese population, and might just be enough to ensure an upset win.

Thursday’s voting has been dogged by reports of violence against opposition supporters, with organizations like Amnesty International and even the U.S. government expressing concerns. But Election Commissioner, Mahinda Deshapriya, remained confident that there would be no foul play. “Don’t worry about this election, this election will be free and fair,” he told reporters.

Rajapaksa told media he was confident of a win, after casting his vote on Thursday morning. “We will have a resounding victory. That is very clear,” he said.

The truth is anything but.

TIME celebrities

Louis C.K. Shows Solidarity By Wearing a Charlie Hebdo Shirt on Stage

Famed comic honors slain satirists

Comedian Louis C.K. has joined satirists worldwide in expressing solidarity with French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

C.K. swapped his usual black shirt for a red one at his Wednesday night performance at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, in honor of the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, MTV reports. His red shirt bore the handwritten name of the magazine in black ink.

The Wednesday assault on the magazine’s Paris offices, in which masked gunmen murdered 12 people — including the publication’s top editor, cartoonists and police officers — has brought outpourings of shock and grief from world leaders, celebrities, journalists, law enforcement and the global community.

[MTV]

TIME Australia

A Guy Got Arrested by 10 Cops for Wearing an ‘I’m With Stupid’ T-shirt

He was charged with public nuisance

A man from Queensland, Australia, was arrested Thursday by a group of 10 police officers for wearing an “I’m With Stupid” T-shirt while he stood and waved next to campaigners from the state’s Liberal National Party (LNP).

Iain Fogerty, who runs a Twitter account parodying Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, was charged with public nuisance, the Courier Mail reports.

Campaign teams for the Australian Labor Party and the LNP had set up opposing rallies on either side of the road in a central part of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, when Fogerty began standing next to the LNP crowd in his T-shirt.

Labor Senator Claire Moore described the arrest as “just ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, Fogerty’s Twitter feed is going crazy with parody photos of people wearing “I’m With Stupid” T-shirts.

[Courier Mail]

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