• France's news in English
Priest killing: 'France was warned about attack threat'
French political leaders attend a memorial mass for the slain priest. Photo: AFP

Priest killing: 'France was warned about attack threat'

AFP/The Local · 28 Jul 2016, 07:56

Published: 28 Jul 2016 07:56 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

French investigators probing an attack on a Catholic church believe one of the assailants is a young man who
anti-terrorism police were desperately trying to track down, sources close to the investigation have said.

The young 19-year-old man was formally identified on Thursday as Abdel Malik Petitjean, from the Alps region of south east France. He was known to authorities for having tried  to travel to Syria.

Days before the church attack counter-terrorist police in France were warned he could be about to act.

Only one of the two men who stormed into a church in the northern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during morning mass Tuesday and slit the 86-year-old priest's throat at the altar, has been officially identified.

However during a raid on the home of the attacker, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, police found an identity card belonging Abdel Malik Petitjean.

"Several elements lead us to believe he is the second attacker," said one of the sources close to the investigation, before hewas officially identified.

'Reliable information' person about to carry out attack

Abdel Malik Petitjean, who is from the Savoie region, has never been convicted of a crime in France so his DNA and fingerprints are not available to speed up the identification process.

But he was on police files since June 29 for having tried to enter Syria from Turkey, the source said.

DNA samples from his mother enabled investigators to identify him.

Sources say that after being gunned down by police, the Petitjean's face was too disfigured to allow him to be clearly identified.

However, the sources said that France's anti-terrorism police unit UCLAT sent out a note four days before the attack -- saying it had received "reliable" information about a person "about to carry out an attack on national territory".

The note came with a photograph which "strongly resembles" Petitjean, whose recent radicalisation towards jihadism had apparently been identified and the alarm raised.

But given there were no details of where or when the individual would act, France's security services were left facing a seemingly impossible race against time.

On Wednesday searches were carried out at homes belonging to Abdel Malik Petitjean's family and three members of his family were taken into custody, according to reports in France.

Isis release video

Kermiche was rapidly identified as he had been under house arrest, and was wearing a monitoring bracelet, after being arrested in Turkey for trying to reach Syria.

Story continues below…

On Wednesday the Islamic State jihadist group released video footage Wednesday it said showed two men who killed a priest in a French church pledging allegiance to Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The video, posted on the Isis news agency Amaq, shows two young men with an Isis banner, as one of them recites in Arabic in a strong non-native accent a traditional pledge of allegiance to the group's head.

The two bearded men, calling themselves noms de guerre Abu Omar and Abu Jalil al-Hanfai, hold hands as they swear "obedience" to Baghdadi.

Isis claimed Tuesday's attack on a church in France during which an 86-year-old priest's throat was cut, saying it had been carried out by two of its "soldiers".

According to Amaq, the two were "soldiers of the Islamic State who carried out the attack in response to calls to target countries of the Crusader coalition".

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available