The man who stabbed a tourist to death near the Eiffel Tower in Paris swore allegiance to the Islamic State group in a video posted to social media, French anti-terrorist prosecutors said Sunday.
Known to the authorities as a radicalised Islamist who had social media connections to perpetrators of other recent attacks in France, he had also been subject to close psychological surveillance for mental health issues, senior prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told reporters.
He added that the man’s mother had reported concerns about him as recently as October, but there was insufficient proof at the time to take legal action.
The attack late Saturday came as France is at its highest alert level against the background of the war between Israel and Hamas and following a series of apparent lone-wolf attacks in the country.
Identified by the authorities, the knife attacker is a French national born in 1997 to Iranian parents. He killed a 23-year-old man, identified as a German-Filipino citizen, with two blows from a hammer and four from a knife at around 9:30 pm Paris time (20:30 GMT).
Shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”), he fled over the Bir Hakeim bridge across the river Seine after a taxi driver intervened.
Meeting a police patrol on the other side, he claimed to be wearing an explosive belt before running again, striking two passers-by – a 66-year-old British citizen and a 60-year-old French person – with the hammer.
He was finally stopped with two shots from a taser and taken into custody.
Ministers led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne gathered for a security meeting on Sunday, with the head of government writing on X, formerly Twitter, that “we will not give in to terrorism”.
Contact with other attackers
“In late October 2023, the mother of the attacker reported concerns about her son’s behaviour, as he had turned in on himself. But there was nothing allowing for a new prosecution,” Ricard said.
An X account opened by the suspect in early October showed “many posts about Hamas, Gaza or Palestine more generally”, he added. It was there that the attacker posted a video in Arabic presenting himself as an Islamic State fighter based in Afghanistan. “In this video, he swore allegiance to the Islamic State and expressed his support to jihadists… in Africa, Iraq, Syria, the Sinai… Yemen or Pakistan,” Ricard said.
The attacker, whose family is not religious, converted to Islam at 18 and began consuming vast amounts of IS propaganda, according to prosecutors.
He had plans to join the Islamic State group in Iraq or Syria in 2016 and was friends on Facebook with a man who went on to kill two police officers in their home in Magnanville, outside Paris — although the two did not exchange messages.
Later that year, he was arrested for planning an attack, eventually serving four years in prison and under close watch following his release. That surveillance was reinforced based on his social media contacts, including with the future killer of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded outside his school in 2020 by an Islamist attacker.
Interior Minister urges for authorities ‘to be able to demand compulsory treatment’
He was also under compulsory psychiatric treatment for mental health troubles until April this year, Ricard said. Health Minister Aurelien Rousseau had earlier said the attacker was “being monitored in a way that did not mean he was hospitalised” for his mental health issues.
“As often in these cases, there’s a mixture of an ideology, an easily influenced person and, unfortunately, psychiatry,” he added.
Attaque au couteau et au marteau à Paris : “Il faut que les pouvoirs publics, le préfet, les policiers puissent demander, exiger, des injonctions de soins”, Gérald Darmanin, ministre de l’Intérieur dans #LE20H pic.twitter.com/cVvNhvGJmr
— TF1Info (@TF1Info) December 3, 2023
As well as the assailant himself, three people were being held in custody on Sunday afternoon, Ricard said, “belonging to the family or the social circle of the perpetrator”.
Following Sunday’s security meeting, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin urged that authorities “should be able to request (or) demand compulsory treatment” for people with mental health issues who are believed to be radicalised.
High tensions amid Israel-Hamas war
France remains “under the threat of radical Islamism for the long term”, Darmanin added, calling for “a very strong penal response”.
France has suffered several attacks by Islamist extremists, including the November 2015 suicide and gun attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State group in which 130 people were killed.
There had been a relative lull in recent years, even as officials have warned that the threat remains. But tensions have risen in France, home to large Jewish and Muslim populations, following Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)