Saturday 22 September 2018

Marseille stabbings suspect released from custody day before attack

Marseille's main train station was cordoned off following a knife attack that left two dead (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Marseille's main train station was cordoned off following a knife attack that left two dead (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

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

French officials are studying the suspect's mobile phone and working to determine whether he had accomplices or direct links to Islamic State (IS), which claimed responsibility for Sunday's stabbings at the Saint Charles station.

The assailant was killed by soldiers immediately after the attack, the latest of several to target France.

The suspect was identified by his fingerprints, which matched those taken during previous arrests, according to two police officials. He was not on France's extremist watch list.

The man did not appear to have French residency papers and was detained for suspected shoplifting at a department store in Lyon on Saturday before being released, according to police union official Yves Lefebvre.

He added that "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.

Mr Lefebvre said shoplifting usually results in a quick police report and a court summons for a later date, and the suspect is released.

"Nothing allowed us to suspect there was a threat of radicalisation 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.

Mr Lefebvre said authorities are pinning hopes on an iPhone found on the suspect for clues to his true identity and motives.

The victims were cousins between 17 and 21 years old, according to three police and judicial officials. It is unclear if they had any link to the attacker.

Authorities opened a terrorism investigation, and the Paris prosecutor is giving a news conference about the attack later today.

Interior minister Gerard Collomb said police have obtained 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".

The IS-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-IS coalition since 2014. The Aamaq statement did not provide evidence of a direct link to the attacker, and it is unclear if the claim is merely opportunistic.

Marseille's Saint Charles station reopened as usual on Monday.

Last month, four American college students were attacked with acid at the same station. French authorities said the female assailant who doused the four Boston College students was suffering from mental illness.


Press Association

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