Thursday 22 March 2018

Knifeman who attacked Paris police came from German asylum centre

Chancellor Angela Merkel Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Chancellor Angela Merkel Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Melanie Hall

Angela Merkel's "open door policy" was under further pressure last night after it emerged a suspected terrorist who attacked a Paris police station last week had lived in an asylum-seeker shelter in Germany.

The man had stayed in refugee accommodation in Recklinghausen in the west of the country, and had reportedly painted a symbol associated with Isil on a wall in the shelter.

He was able to then travel to France, where he tried to storm a police station in northern Paris, brandishing a meat cleaver and wearing a fake suicide vest, before being shot dead.

The assault took place exactly one year since the start of a series of jihadist attacks in France beginning with the murder of 12 people at 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine on January 7 last year. President François Hollande yesterday led an event to honour the victims, laying a plaque in the Place de la Republique.

The German link to the attacker in France risks fanning fears that would-be terrorists have been slipping into Germany amid a record refugee influx.

German investigators assisting the investigation into the Paris attack raided the refugee shelter after it emerged that the man had been carrying a mobile phone with a German SIM card.

French investigators have said the man's identity is still being established.

According to French media, his fingerprints match those of a homeless man convicted of theft in 2013 in the south of France, who gave his name as Sallah Ali and said he was Moroccan.

However, people presenting themselves as his family identified the man as a Tunisian called Tarek Belgacem.

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister said the attacker was "undoubtedly" Tunisian.

The man had painted an Isil symbol on a wall in the refugee shelter in September, according to German newspaper 'Welt am Sonntag'.

Meanwhile, news magazine 'Spiegel Online' reported that the man had already been classed by German police as a possible suspect after he posed at the refugee centre with an Isil flag, but he disappeared in December.

The man had given different nationalities at each registration, once saying he was Syrian, another time saying he was Moroccan, and on yet another occasion, Georgian.

The link to a refugee shelter in Germany risks further inflaming a debate over the 1.1 million asylum seekers that the country took in last year.

Tensions were already running high in Germany after a spate of sexual assaults and thefts during New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne.

Police said yesterday that the number of cases filed over violence during the festivities in Cologne had reached 516 - 40pc of which related to sexual assault.

Heiko Maas, Germany's justice minister, said yesterday that he suspected that the attacks in Cologne were planned rather than a spontaneous action.

"If such a horde gathers in order to commit crimes, that appears in some form to be planned," Mr Maas told the newspaper 'Bild'.

"Nobody can tell me that this was not co-ordinated or prepared."

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