Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Suspect freed day before France attack

TERROR PROBE:The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the killing of two women by a man who had been detained the day before for shoplifting

AP, PARIS

A man who fatally stabbed two women outside the main train station in Marseille, France, had been detained for shoplifting and released the day before the attack, and used multiple fake identities in a series of previous arrests, officials said yesterday.

French authorities are studying the suspect’s cellphone and working to determine whether he had accomplices or direct links to the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for Sunday’s stabbing.

The assailant was killed by soldiers immediately after the attack.

The suspect was identified by his fingerprints, which matched those taken during previous arrests, two police officials said.

He was not on France’s extremist watch list, said the officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named in an ongoing investigation.

The man did not appear to have French residency papers and was detained for suspected shoplifting at a department store in the Lyon region on Saturday before being released, said Yves Lefebvre, an official of the Unite SGP Police union.

“While it could shock the public, unfortunately it doesn’t shock us, the police” that the suspect was released the day before carrying out a deadly attack, Lefebvre said.

Shoplifting usually results in a quick police report and a court summons for a later date, and the suspect is released, he added.

“Nothing allowed us to suspect there was a threat of radicalization during the [Lyon] arrest,” he said.

The man used multiple pseudonyms and identity papers, making it difficult to determine his true identity — or even to find a house to search, Lefebvre said.

The authorities are pinning their hopes on an iPhone found on the suspect for clues to his true identity and motives, he added.

The victims were cousins between 17 and 21 years old, three police and judicial officials said.

It was unclear if they had any link to the attacker.

Authorities opened a terrorism investigation, and the Paris prosecutor was to give a news conference about the attack later yesterday.

French Minister of the Interior Gerard Collomb said police have video that shows the man attacking a woman and running away, then coming back and attacking a second woman.

Some witnesses reported hearing the assailant shout “Allahu Akbar” — Arabic for “God is great,” Collomb said.

The Islamic State-linked Aamaq news agency said that the assailant was acting in response to the extremist group’s calls to target countries in the US-led coalition fighting militants in Syria and Iraq. France has been part of the anti-Islamic State coalition since 2014.

The Aamaq statement did not provide evidence of a direct link to the attacker, and it was unclear if the claim was merely opportunistic.

Marseille’s Saint-Charles station reopened as usual yesterday.

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