Friday 25 May 2018

Probe into how known radical Islamists were free to murder

People stand at a memorial in front of the Saint-Etienne du Rouvray church, where Father Jacques Hamel was killed. Photo: Getty
People stand at a memorial in front of the Saint-Etienne du Rouvray church, where Father Jacques Hamel was killed. Photo: Getty

David Chazan and Lexi Finnigan

French police are investigating how two 19-year-olds known to have been radicalised, one of whom was tagged and under house arrest, were able to murder a priest at the altar as he led Mass.

The pair were seen pledging allegiance to Isil in a chilling video released by the terrorist group yesterday.

Abdel Malik P, a French 19-year-old convert to Islam, was identified as the second attacker who seized hostages at the church with Adel Kermiche, also 19.

They slit Father Jacques Hamel's throat and forced a parishioner to film the death throes of the 85-year-old at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy.

Both teens were known to the police for having links to Islamist extremism. Police had been looking for Abdel Malik P for several days before the attack because they had lost track of his whereabouts, it emerged yesterday.

Kermiche was tagged after being released from detention in March while awaiting trial for membership of a terror group. He remained under house arrest at his parents' home in the small town but was allowed out for four hours a day. It was during that time that the attack took place.

Police found Abdel Malik P's identity card while searching the Kermiche family home. Investigators also searched the flat of his mother in Aix-les-Bains, a town in the south-eastern Savoie region where he was known to be living - 800km from Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. It is not known how the killers knew each other.

Both were shot dead by police as they left the church, forcing hostages to go ahead of them as human shields. Abdel Malik P was shot in the face, which slowed down identification. Police did not release his surname.

One of the hostages at the church, an 86-year-old woman, yesterday said the attackers had handed her husband Guy a mobile phone and demanded that he take photos or video of the priest after he was killed.

Her husband was then slashed by the attackers and is now hospitalised with serious injuries. The woman, identified only as Jeanine, told RMC radio that her husband played dead to stay alive.

"The terrorists held me with a revolver at my neck," she said, adding it was not clear to her now whether the weapon was real or fake. "He [the priest] fell down looking upwards, toward us."

Mohammed Karabila, a local Muslim leader, expressed horror that the security services had failed to prevent the attack: "How could a person wearing an electronic tag carry out an attack? Where were the police?"

The former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, called for more known Islamists to be detained amid an escalating row over alleged security failings in the hours before the massacre of 84 people in Nice on July 14. "We must change the law to preserve a state of law," he said.

Kermiche was once a sports-mad teenager who loved 'The Simpsons' and pop singer Rihanna. A childhood friend named as Christian said he had once wanted to be a model and loved to "flirt with the ladies".

Other friends claimed that he pretended to marry at least three Muslim girls for sex, only to abandon them days later. He reportedly had four siblings, one of whom is a doctor. The family was not religious but he was "bewitched" by radicals after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January last year.

A recent psychological report on Kermiche highlighted his frail mental state, detailing depression and other problems. Prosecutors appealed against his release but he convinced a judge to free him, saying: "I am a Muslim grounded in the values of mercy and goodness - I am not an extremist."

Frederic Lagache of the police union Alliance described the judge's decision as "incomprehensible".

"We must change the law, he said. "Judges must not be allowed to set someone like that free." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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