MARSEILLE – A suspected jihadist who stabbed two young women to death at Marseille’s main train station had used several aliases and was a known petty criminal, French police and officials say.
A soldier shot and killed the attacker after the stabbings on Sunday. The victims were cousins from Lyon, both aged 20.
The knifeman had been detained in Lyon on Friday on suspicion of shoplifting, but then released for lack of evidence.
He struck just outside the station.
The man was said to be of North African appearance, but his identity remains unclear.
A police source quoted by Le Parisien newspaper said “he had the profile of a petty criminal, and in order to deport him it would be necessary to identify him, and that did not take place”.
Witnesses said he shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) during the attack, by a bench outside the southern city’s Saint Charles station.
So-called Islamic State (IS) said the attacker was one of its “soldiers”.
Since January 2015 France has suffered a spate of jihadist attacks that have claimed more than 240 lives in total.
Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins, quoted by Reuters news agency, said the killer had seven different identities, none of which were on French anti-terrorist checklists.
One victim had her throat slit and the other was stabbed in the stomach.
President Emmanuel Macron said he was disgusted by the “barbarous act” and paid tribute to the soldiers and the police officers who responded.
Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters that the attacker had fled after the first murder but returned to kill again.
Soldiers were already in the station as part of Operation Sentinelle, which sees combat troops patrol streets and protect key sites amid France’s ongoing state of emergency.
IS claimed it was behind the attack via its Amaq news outlet. The group regularly claims responsibility for militant attacks it believes are inspired by its ideology.
France is involved in the US-led bombing campaign targeting IS in Iraq and Syria.
IS recently released a tape purportedly of leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi in which he urged supporters to step up attacks.
On Tuesday the French parliament will vote on new legislation which would make some state of emergency measures permanent.
The measures include:
- Expanding the permitted zone for identity checks by police around stations, ports and airports
- Requiring judicial approval before conducting a house search
- Confining a suspect to house arrest without a prior instruction from a judge.
Human rights activists and some left-wing MPs warn that the new security law would reduce judicial oversight of the police. -BBC