The case of missing Rifki has been front page news in France since Sunday – and now that he has been returned “safe and sound” to his family, the frightening details of his kidnapping and his captor have begun to emerge.
The boy, who is from the east African island of Comoros, disappeared on Saturday afternoon, prompting police to issue a “Plan Alerte Enlevement”, meaning his name and picture were instantly spread across France's TV, radio, and public transport systems.
A passenger on a high-speed TGV train heading to Bordeaux recognized the boy on Sunday afternoon. Police detained the man who was travelling with Rifki, and the boy was returned to his family in western France's Rennes, some 450 kilometres away.
On Tuesday, French channel Europe 1 revealed that his abductor had been arrested in June on suspicion of molesting a 15-year-old.
The man, referred to by the channel as 25-year-old Ahmed, will face a criminal court in January for the offence.
(The boy went missing from the Place de la Marie square in Rennes. Photo: AFP)
His lawyer told Europe 1 that the man spoke only broken French, and had been in France for several months. The 25-year-old is a native of Mayotte, an island region of France in the Indian Ocean, where he was reportedly mistreated himself as a child and grew up in a care home.
Over the weekend, he is understood to have taken the boy from a busy square in Rennes, before spending a night with him on the streets of Paris, then taking the TGV train in the direction of Bordeaux on Sunday.
He risks 30 years in prison.
Rifki, meanwhile, has told investigators and a psychologist that he was not subjected to any violence while in the company of his captor, who he referred to as Uncle Ahmed.
The full scale abduction alert that was launched to find Rifki on Sunday is rarely used in France, but it is highly effective. It has been launched 16 times since it was introduced in 2006 – each time when the child's life is deemed to be in danger – with all missing parties found safe afterwards.