Beheading suspect says he was never a jihadi
The man being held in France under suspicion of beheading his boss and trying to blow up a chemicals plant has told investigators there was no religious motivation behind the attack, a source close to the inquiry said yesterday.
The source said Yassin Salhi (35) told investigators he was not a jihadist and repeated earlier statements that he committed the act outside the southeast city of Lyon on Friday after a row with his wife the day before and his boss, Herve Cornara, a few days earlier.
Salhi, who was arrested at the scene of the crime on Friday, can be held for a maximum 96 hours under French law before being charged or released.
The severed head of his boss was found hanging on the fence of a site belonging to US-based gas and chemicals company Air Products, next to flags bearing professions of the Muslim faith.
Examination of one of Salhi's phones revealed he had taken a picture of himself with the severed head before his arrest and sent the image to a number belonging to a French national last traced to the Isil stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.
Friday's attack stirred new security fears in France less than six months after January's Islamist killings at a satirical weekly and Jewish foodstore in Paris.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said the threat facing France, a member of the international coalition fighting Isil in Iraq, has never been greater.
A number of sites around the country have been put on maximum security.
French authorities say Salhi frequented Islamic radicals and was filed between 2006 and 2008 as being at risk of becoming radicalised, but he had a clean criminal record and did not show signs of preparing any attacks.
Local media cited witnesses to the instability of his character, including a former martial arts instructor who said the usually calm father-of-three was subject to such bursts of violence that fellow pupils refused to spar with him.
Separately yesterday the French government announced yesterday that the country's top security official has expelled "about 10" radical imams and preachers since the beginning of the year and a total of 40 since 2012.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Europe 1 radio that France will not tolerate "preachers of hatred."
He spoke three days after Salhi was accused of beheading his boss and then trying to cause an explosion at the US-owned gas factory in southeastern France.
The plant reopened yesterday. Also last night France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could explode "at any moment" and that Isil can interfere at any time.
He said that "if and when it explodes, it's very, very, very problematic for the whole region and for the world."
However, he also said that "every radical group," especially in Gaza, can take advantage of the deadlocked peace process, and it would be lamentable if the Islamic State group - "the most radical of the radicals" - used this as a pretext for violence. Mr Fabius said he discussed the possibility of moving forward with key leaders during a recent visit where he suggested that a new international body with Arab nations be formed to help spur an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.