French probe police station attack for any extremist ties

National

Police officers gather next to the Police station in Rambouillet, south west of Paris, Friday, April 23, 2021. A French police officer was stabbed to death inside her police station Friday near the famed historic Rambouillet chateau, and her attacker was shot and killed by officers at the scene, authorities said. The identity and the motive of the assailant were not immediately clear, a national police spokesperson told The Associated Press. The police officer was a 49-year-old administrative employee in the station, the spokesperson said. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

RAMBOUILLET, France (AP) — French anti-terrorism investigators questioned three detained people on Saturday, seeking to establish a motive and uncover any possible ties to extremism after a police official was fatally stabbed at a police station outside Paris.

The attack Friday on an unarmed administrative employee at the entry to her station in the town of Rambouillet has jolted the French government to take a deeper look at what new steps are needed to counter attacks. The employee had left the station to extend her time on a parking meter.

BFM-TV reported that a secret crisis meeting on Saturday headed by Prime Minister Jean Castex was attended by the justice and defense ministers and police and intelligence officials.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, visited the family of the victim, a 49-year-old identified only as Stephanie. She lived in Thoiry, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Rambouillet, where she worked. The president’s office said he wanted “to show support and solidarity with the family … very upset and very dignified.”

A steady stream of people bearing flowers handed the bouquets to police officers in Rambouillet on Saturday but the station remained closed to the public.

Officers “very quickly” killed the Tunisia-born stabbing suspect who lived in the town after Friday’s attack, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Saturday. The attacker entered France illegally in 2009 and was given residency papers in 2020, a judicial official said Saturday.

The attacker had staked out the police station ahead of time, anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-France Ricard said. The preparation, along with statements he said during the attack and the targeting of a police official, prompted the national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office to take over the investigation.

The 37-year-old suspect, identified as Djamel G., had no criminal record or record of radicalization, French media reported. But witnesses heard him say “Allahu akbar!” Arabic for “God is great,” during the attack, said a French judicial official who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

“(Police) know we have a difficult fight against Islamist terrorism … the fight won’t stop tomorrow or the next day,” Darmanin said after meeting with police in the Brittany town of Quimper, which he was visiting.

Infrequent Facebook and Instagram posts from accounts thought to have belonged to the suspected attacker hinted at a man who waffled over the years about his allegiances but with no overt ties to an extremist ideology, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which uncovered the accounts, reported. In those, he described himself as a Tunisian from Msaken, near the eastern coastal town of Sousse.

The judicial official confirmed to The Associated Press that the name associated with the accounts “appears” correct, but in keeping with French practice, the official would not confirm the attacker’s full name.

Djamel G.’s last post on April 18 is a prayer for a blessed Ramadan, the Muslim holy month now in progress.

SITE said he added a sticker to his profile picture on Oct. 24 showing opposition to insults of the prophet of Islam. That would have been eight days after the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty outside his school , in the same department as Rambouillet. Paty was killed after he showed caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in a civics class.

In a 2015 post, Djamel G. covered his profile picture with the French flag, a gesture widely employed in France after the extremist attacks that year.

The French government has been emphasizing security, mindful of the presidential election next year. The interior minister has made a point of defending police amid claims of brutality amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the growing popularity of far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

A police couple was murdered in 2016 in their home in the same region as Rambouillet.

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Ganley reported from Paris.

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