France priest killer boasted of plans to cause "carnage" at a church
One of the Isil priest killers coldly boasted of his plan to cause “carnage” at a church on a messaging service popular with jihadists in the weeks before the attack, it emerged on Thursday. “You take a knife, you go to a church, you make carnage, bam!”
Adel Kermiche said in an audio recording shared with about 200 people on the encrypted Telegram app. “You cut off two or three heads and it’s good, it’s over,” he said in a grim warning of the brutal murder of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at his church in a quiet Normandy town.
Just over an hour before Kermiche and Abdel Malik Nabil Petitjean slit the priest’s throat before being gunned down by police in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, he sent a final message: “Download what’s going to come, and share it en masse.”
Kermiche, who was under house arrest and tagged, had been exchanging messages for months on the service, prized by terrorists because it allows them to hide their communications from the security services.
He recounted being mentored by a “Sheikh”, whom he met in prison, and said: “If you want to go to al-Sham (meaning to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria or Iraq), it’s pretty complicated as the borders are closed. Might as well attack here.” The authenticity of the messages, obtained by the French magazine L’Express, was confirmed by a security source.
The government faced more questions over security after it emerged that four days before the attack, French anti-terrorism officers sent a photograph of Petitjean to all police stations in France. It was accompanied by a note saying a foreign intelligence service had warned he was planning a terrorist attack. But it did not give his name as the photo had not been matched with his security file.
He was spotted at a Turkish airport on June 10, with another French national, apparently en route to Syria. But the Turkish security services reportedly delayed before flagging him up to their French counterparts, who only placed him on their terror watch list on June 29.
They believed he was in Syria, when in fact he had turned back and returned to France on June 11. His companion, who was also turned back by Turkish authorities, was arrested in France and was being questioned by counter-terrorism officers last night.
Three of Petitjean’s family members were also being questioned to build a more detailed profile of the teenager, who had not been known as a troublemaker at school. He had passed the baccalauréat, equivalent to A-levels, and had no criminal record. Petitjean, who was shot in the face, was only identified when police traced his mother, Yasmina Boukkezoula, at their home in Aix-les-Bains, in south-eastern France, and matched their DNA.
He sent her mother a message on the morning of the attack telling her not to worry, she told France 2 television. Distraught and disbelieving when told he had killed a priest, she said it was “impossible that I gave birth to the devil. He’s not at all the monster that people want us to believe.”
Two days before the attack, Petitjean joined friends for a Sunday afternoon football game. They said he appeared calm and normal. “We just can’t believe that someone so nice got mixed up in all this,” said one friend, Hamid.
Amid a row over the release of Kermiche from prison while awaiting trial for membership of a terror group, a ministry of justice spokesman said seven other terrorist suspects in France are under the same type of loose surveillance, as are six people convicted of terrorist offences.
The decision to place him under house arrest at his parents’ home was opposed by prosecutors who warned he was dangerous. Nevertheless, judges gave him permission to go out for four hours a day, which allowed him to carry out the attack.
As part of the efforts to step up security in the wake of an unprecedented series of terrorist attacks President François Hollande announced on Thursday that France would create a National Guard.
Modelled on the US National Guard, the new force will initially be formed by transferring reservists from other units.
Its exact role will be decided after discussions in parliament in September. Mr Hollande said it would be “created as fast as possible to protect the French people.”
The US National Guard is a reserve military force, most of whose members hold full-time civilian jobs.
The French government appealed for volunteers to join the security forces as reservists after the massacre of 84 people in Nice on July 14.
France has not had a national guard since 1872.