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TERRORISM

Marseille attacker released by police day before stabbing rampage

The man who stabbed two young women to death in Marseille in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group used seven different identities and had been arrested just days earlier, French prosecutors said Monday.

Marseille attacker released by police day before stabbing rampage
Photo: AFP

The man who stabbed two young women to death in Marseille in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group used seven different identities and had been arrested just days earlier, French prosecutors said Monday.

Authorities said the man, who was shot dead by anti-terror troops after Sunday's attack outside the southern city's main train station, had previously used a Tunisian passport under the name Ahmed H., 29.

But investigators are seeking to confirm his identity as the attacker — who had a history of petty crime but was not on a jihadist watch list — used seven aliases, anti-terror prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.

“The method of the attacker, a knife attack at a train station, responded to a permanent call from the terrorist group Daesh,” Molins said, using another name for IS.

The jihadist group's propaganda agency Amaq claimed the killer was one of its “soldiers”, while a source close to the investigation told AFP no solid evidence linked him to IS.

The attack in France's second biggest city followed a string of stabbings around Europe claimed by or blamed on Islamist radicals.

The man killed two 20-year-old cousins from the eastern city of Lyon. One was studying in Marseille and the other was visiting her for the weekend.

Molins confirmed that witnesses heard the attacker shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as he lunged at the women with a 20-centimetre (eight-inch) knife before threatening soldiers, who shot him dead.

The attacker's fingerprints showed he had had seven brushes with the law since 2005 — most recently when he was arrested last week in Lyon.

He presented the Tunisian passport to police, saying he was divorced, used “hard drugs”, and had no fixed address.

The shoplifting charges were dropped for lack of evidence, and local authorities “were not able to take a decision to deport him,” Molins added. He was released on Saturday.





'Barbaric act'

Police evacuated Marseille's ornate Saint Charles station after the attack, temporarily halting all train traffic on some of France's busiest lines.

“I was on the esplanade just in front of the station,” Melanie Petit, an 18-year-old student, told AFP. “I heard someone shout 'Allahu Akbar' and I saw a man who seemed to be dressed all in black.”

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Sunday that he was “deeply angered by this barbaric act”.

The attack comes as parliament prepares Tuesday to vote on a controversial anti-terror bill that transfers some of the exceptional powers granted to
police under a 22-month-old state of emergency into national law.

France has been under a state of emergency since the IS gun and bomb attacks in Paris in November 2015 — part of a string of jihadist assaults
that have left more than 240 people dead over the past two years.

But rights groups warn that making parts of the state of emergency permanent would give police too much free rein in handling terrorism suspects.

Knives have been the weapon of choice in a string of smaller-scale attacks, in recent months, mainly targeting troops from the 7,000-strong Sentinelle
anti-terror force set up to patrol the streets and vulnerable sites such as stations and tourist attractions.

In most cases, the attackers were shot dead at the start of their rampage, before they could kill others.

The Marseille attack came only days after IS released a recording of what it said was its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging his followers to strike
their enemies in the West.

The French government has deployed troops and its air force to the Middle East and is a leading partner in the US-led international coalition fightingIS in Iraq and Syria.

TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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