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France: Two men and two women held following terrorist attack which saw man decapitated

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Police officers investigate at a plant where an   attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France.  A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Police officers investigate at a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

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French special Police forces are seen at work at a residential building during a raid in Saint-Priest, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. The suspect arrested for a French Islamist attack did not have a criminal record but had been under watch as being possibly radicalised, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Friday.    REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

French special Police forces are seen at work at a residential building during a raid in Saint-Priest, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. The suspect arrested for a French Islamist attack did not have a criminal record but had been under watch as being possibly radicalised, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Friday. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

REUTERS

Riot police officers block the area where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France.  A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Riot police officers block the area where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

AP

Police officers investigate at a plant where an   attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France.  A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said.  (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Police officers investigate at a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

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Police officers investigate at a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

A man once flagged for ties to Islamic radicals has rammed a vehicle into a gas factory in France, triggering an explosion that injured two people before the severed head of his employer was found hanging at the factory entrance.

Officials immediately opened a terrorism investigation as prime minister Manuel Valls said: "Islamist terrorism has again struck France."

The attack began when the vehicle made it through the gate of the US-owned factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, south-east of Lyon.

The vehicle then ploughed into gas canisters, touching off the blast, president Francois Hollande said in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit.

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French Gendarmes are seen at work next to a black plastic sheet (unseen) outside a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. A decapitated head covered in Arabic writing was found at a a site belonged to Air Products, a U.S.-based industrial gases technology company, in southeast France on Friday, police sources and French media said, after two assailants rammed a car into the premises, exploding gas containers. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich 

ATTENTION EDITORS FRENCH LAW REQUIRES THAT CAR REGISTRATION PLATES ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN FRANCE

French Gendarmes are seen at work next to a black plastic sheet (unseen) outside a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. A decapitated head covered in Arabic writing was found at a a site belonged to Air Products, a U.S.-based industrial gases technology company, in southeast France on Friday, police sources and French media said, after two assailants rammed a car into the premises, exploding gas containers. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich ATTENTION EDITORS FRENCH LAW REQUIRES THAT CAR REGISTRATION PLATES ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN FRANCE

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French Gendarmes remove a black plastic sheet outside the Air Products gas factory site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. A decapitated body daubed with Arabic writing was found at a U.S.-owned factory in southeast France on Friday after an assailant rammed a delivery van into gas containers at the site, triggering an explosion.    REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

French Gendarmes remove a black plastic sheet outside the Air Products gas factory site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. A decapitated body daubed with Arabic writing was found at a U.S.-owned factory in southeast France on Friday after an assailant rammed a delivery van into gas containers at the site, triggering an explosion. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

REUTERS

"No doubt about the intention - to cause an explosion," Mr Hollande said, calling the attack "of a terrorist nature".

The French president later raised the security alert for the south-eastern region to its highest level for the next three days.

No group immediately claimed the attack, but the severed head appeared to mimic the Islamic State group's practice of beheading prisoners and displaying their heads for all to see. The man's body was found elsewhere on the grounds.

A security official said two flags - one white and one black, both bearing Arabic inscriptions - were found nearby.

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A police officer blocks the road leading to a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France.  A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

A police officer blocks the road leading to a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

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Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the main suspect - a man from the Lyon region who had been flagged in 2006 for suspected ties to radical Salafists - was seized by an alert firefighter. Mr Cazeneuve said the suspect had been known to intelligence services, who had him under surveillance from 2006 to 2008.

A police official said the man in custody, Yassine Salhi, is in his 30s and a resident of the Lyon suburb of Saint-Priest.

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French Gendarmes block the access road to the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, outside Lyon

French Gendarmes block the access road to the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, outside Lyon

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Police officers outside the plant where an attack took place in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, south-east of Lyon, France (AP)

Police officers outside the plant where an attack took place in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, south-east of Lyon, France (AP)

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French Gendarmes stand guard next to a black plastic sheet outside a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon

French Gendarmes stand guard next to a black plastic sheet outside a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon

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French Gendarmes stand guard next to a black plastic sheet outside a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, France

French Gendarmes stand guard next to a black plastic sheet outside a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, France

REUTERS

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People pay tribute to the victim of the attack at a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier during a ceremony at the Peace Memorial in Bourgoin-Jallieu, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. A decapitated head covered in Arabic writing was found at a a site belonged to Air Products, a U.S.-based industrial gases technology company, in southeast France on Friday, police sources and French media said, after two assailants rammed a car into the premises, exploding gas containers.  REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

People pay tribute to the victim of the attack at a gas company site at the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier during a ceremony at the Peace Memorial in Bourgoin-Jallieu, near Lyon, France, June 26, 2015. A decapitated head covered in Arabic writing was found at a a site belonged to Air Products, a U.S.-based industrial gases technology company, in southeast France on Friday, police sources and French media said, after two assailants rammed a car into the premises, exploding gas containers. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

REUTERS

Officials said the decapitated man ran a local transportation company that employed Salhi. One official said he was believed to have been killed before the attack on the factory and was not killed by the explosion.

Three other people, including Salhi's wife, were taken into in custody.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Salhi was known to factory personnel because he came in regularly for deliveries. The attacker entered the factory grounds in a utility truck, then crashed the vehicle into a hangar at the site, prompting an explosion.

Mr Molins said the attacker, his wife, sister and another suspect are in custody. He said investigators are trying to determine whether there are accomplices.

Security has been stepped up in south-east France after a decapitated head was found at a gas plant near Lyon. .

The gas factory belongs to Air Products, a US chemical company based in Pennsylvania. The company said all its employees had been accounted for and were evacuated from the premises but did not say if any had been injured.

"The site is secure. Our crisis and emergency response teams have been activated and are working closely with all relevant authorities," the company said in a statement.

Air Products makes gases used by a wide range of industries, including food production, medicine and oil and gas. It has more than 20,000 employees in 50 countries, mostly in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

One official said the suspect apparently miscalculated how explosive the chemicals he smashed into would be, but Mr Hollande said a major explosion appeared to be the goal.

France went on high alert in January after attacks against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery store and a policewoman that left 20 people dead in the Paris region, including three Islamic extremist attackers.

Since then, fears of copycat attacks have risen. One person was arrested in April after authorities said he was plotting to gun down people in churches in the Paris region.

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