Pressure for answers after deadly Paris attack on police

07 October 2019 - 17:44 By afp
Security personnel on the streets after the attack on the police headquarters in Paris, France, on October 3 2019.
Security personnel on the streets after the attack on the police headquarters in Paris, France, on October 3 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Pressure grew on Monday on France's government to explain how the radicalisation of a man who stabbed four colleagues to death at Paris police headquarters failed to raise red flags inside the intelligence unit where he worked.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, summoned before two parliamentary committees this week, conceded there had been a "malfunction" as he promised to "tighten the net".

The minister came under fire after initially claiming that Mickael Harpon, a 45-year-old computer expert, never gave the "slightest reason for alarm" before going on the rampage last Thursday.

Harpon had worked for the police since 2003.

Newspaper front pages on Monday lamented a weakened French state resulting from a "serious malfunction" in the intelligence community and shortcomings in the anti-terror machinery, as critics called for Castaner's head.

Harpon, who was partly deaf, used a kitchen knife and an oyster shucker to kill three police officials and an administrative staffer - three men and a woman - and injure two others in a 30-minute lunchtime rampage that ended when an officer shot him in the head.

It later emerged that Harpon had converted to Islam about 10 years ago and had started adopting increasingly radical beliefs, according to an initial investigation report.

In the last few years, he made contacts with members of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement and stopped shaking hands with women - physical contact that hardliners view as inappropriate.

Harpon alarmed colleagues as long ago as 2015 when he defended the massacre of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris by two brothers vowing allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the investigation revealed.

No report was filed, however.

"There was no alert at the right level at the right time," Castaner told France Inter radio on Monday.

Automatic flagging

"The warning signals should have been sufficient to unlock a thorough investigation," said the minister, while vowing to "tighten the net".

"I want any warning sign to be automatically flagged up," he said.

Castaner, who insisted on Sunday he would not resign over the matter, has been summoned to appear before parliament's intelligence committee on Tuesday.

"We're going to try to find out what these failings were," committee chairman Christian Cambon said on Sunday.

On Thursday, the minister will get a second grilling when he appears before a parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing the workings of the justice system.

The body said in a statement on Monday it would seek answers about "the conditions that allowed a criminal attack to take place within the police headquarters".

Its inquiry will also focus on warning signals that may have been missed, and "more generally, on the measures taken by the government... regarding the detection of radicalised agents in the administration and measures taken to protect the public service against the risks posed by such agents".

Investigators said Harpon's personal life had been subject to an extensive background check early in his career, given that he worked with classified information as part of the Paris police's intelligence division.

He had no criminal record.

Harpon's 38-year-old wife was freed from police custody without charge Sunday after several days of questioning.

Police found that the couple had exchanged 33 text messages shortly before the attack.

French police have often been targets of jihadist groups such as Islamic State since 2015, from large, synchronised assaults to isolated knife and gun attacks.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith, a body tasked with representing Muslim issues before the national government, on Monday denounced the "unacceptable and unbearable criminal acts committed in the name of Islam," and vowed to work with religious leaders "to prevent all forms of radicalisation."


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