News World Paris knife attacker was on police radar for radicalism, born in Chechnya

Paris knife attacker was on police radar for radicalism, born in Chechnya

Heavily armed gendarmes seal the street where the attacker claimed one life before being shot dead. Photo: CrowdSpark/Anthony Deperraz
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The man behind a deadly knife attack in central Paris was born in Chechnya and had been on police radar for radicalism, French authorities say.

The attacker was shot dead by police after stabbing a 29-year-old man to death and injuring four others in a lively neighbourhood near the Opera Garnier on Saturday night.

Authorities said the man was heard shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

The assailant had been on a nationwide database of thousands of people who had suspected of links to radicalism, according to a judicial official.

Police said his parents have been detained for questioning.

A judicial official said the assailant had French nationality but was born in the Russian republic of Chechnya, where Islamic extremism has long simmered.

The assailant did not have identity documents with him during Saturday’s attack but was identified thanks to DNA, according to a police official.

French Interior Ministry spokesman Frederic de Lanouvelle said the man had no previous convictions or arrests.

He also said the attacker had no link to his victims.

A police officer cordons off the area after a knife attack in central Paris.

Police union representative Rocco Contento said police shot the assailant after he rushed at them shouting “I will kill you, I will kill you!”

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is holding a special security meeting on Sunday local time to address the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group and is being investigated by counterterrorism authorities.

Mr Collomb said the four people injured were out of life-threatening danger and authorities were working to find anyone who might have helped the assailant.

‘Everyone started screaming’: witness

A man named Jonathan, who would not give his last name, said he was working in a restaurant when the incident happened and suddenly heard a woman screaming.

“She tried to seek shelter in our restaurant but unfortunately she couldn’t, he came and attacked her,” he said.

“That’s when the panic started, everyone started screaming and trying to reach our restaurant.”

He said the woman was helped by a friend and the two managed to walk away while the attacker “just kept walking around with his knife in his bloodied hands and then he approached a shopping area”.

He said police tried to taser the attacker before they shot him.

Another witness, Milan Charolloys, said he saw people caring for a woman who appeared to have been stabbed in the throat.

“Someone was taking her pulse and talking to her, someone came out of a hotel with loads of bandages to put on her leg,” Mr Charolloys said.

“I think that people around her took action quickly, the woman was still awake, she had her eyes opened, she said a few words which I can’t remember at all, but she was speaking and in a conscious state.”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweeted that the assailant was “neutralised” within nine minutes of police receiving the first call about the attack.

“France is absolutely determined not to give in to the threats that the attackers want to impose on her,” Mr Philippe said.

Paris police officers evacuated people from some buildings in the Right Bank neighbourhood after the attack.

Bar patrons and opera-goers described surprise and confusion in the immediate area.

Beyond the police cordon, however, crowds still filled nearby cafes and the city’s night life resumed its normal pace soon after the attack.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said counterterrorism authorities were leading the investigation on potential charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with terrorist motives.

Mr Molins said the decision was made due to the style of the attack and on the accounts of witnesses who said the attacker cried ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great in Arabic) during the incident.

“Given the modus operandi, we have turned this over to the counterterrorist section of the Paris prosecutor’s office,” Mr Molins told reporters from the scene.

The Islamic State group’s Aamaq news agency said in a statement on early Sunday that the assailant carried out the attack in response to the group’s calls for supporters to target members of the United States-led military coalition squeezing the extremists out of Iraq and Syria.

The Aamaq statement did not provide evidence for its claim or details on the assailant’s identity.

The knife attack happened in Paris’ 2nd District.

France’s military has been active in the coalition since 2014, and Islamic State adherents have killed more than 200 people in France in recent years, including the 130 who died in the coordinated November 2015 attacks in Paris.

President Emmanuel Macron tweeted his praise for police who “neutralised the terrorist”.

“France is once again paying the price of blood but will not cede an inch to enemies of freedom,” Mr Macron said.

France’s BFM television interviewed an unnamed witness in a restaurant who said a young woman was at the entrance when “a man arrived and attacked her with a knife”.

A friend came to her aid and the attacker left, “hitting on all the doors, all the shops,” the witness told BFM.

He turned onto another street, and everyone scattered, the witness said.

France has been on high alert as a series of attacks commissioned or inspired by Islamic State have hit the country over the past three years in which dozens of people have been killed.

The Russian Embassy in France said that it had asked French authorities for more information on the attacker.

Some refugees fleeing wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s settled in France, but France has not seen a high-profile attack by Chechens in the past.

Two Chechen brothers were behind the deadly bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013.