Paris | French police interrogated a suspected Islamist today as they tried to piece together an attack in which the man put his boss’s severed head on display in the second jihadist attack to hit France in six months.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who cut short an official trip to South America to return home, warned that France faced more attacks and that yesterday’s assault on a gas factory near the second city of Lyon would increase tensions in the country and put citizens’ resilience to the test.
No jihadist group has claimed the French attack which came on the same day as a massacre at a Tunisian beach resort in which 38 people were gunned down and a suicide bombing in Kuwait that killed 27. The other two attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State group.
A suspect, Yassin Salhi, 35, was arrested after causing an explosion by driving a delivery van into a warehouse containing bottles of dangerous gas and chemicals at the US-owned Air Products factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, some 40 kilometres from Lyon.
The prosecutor in the case said Salhi was overpowered by firefighters as he was trying to open acetone bottles in what is believed to have been an attempt to cause a larger explosion. The firefighters then discovered the decapitated body of his 54-year-old boss Herve Cornara — who ran a delivery firm — near the car, along with a knife.
The victim’s head was pinned to a nearby fence. The gory attack in France came nearly six months after a three-day Islamist killing spree in Paris left 17 people dead, most of them gunned down in the editorial offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Like the Charlie Hebdo attackers and Islamist Mohamed Merah who gunned down soldiers and Jewish children in a 2012 attack in the southwest city of Toulouse, Salhi had been known to security services for radicalisation, but slipped through the cracks.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said yesterday the married father-of-three had been investigated for links to radical Salafists in Lyon, but was not identified as having participated in terrorist activities and did not have a criminal record. Speaking after a ministerial meeting today with President Francois Hollande, Cazeneuve vowed the government would continue to work relentlessly against terrorism.
France is on high alert over hundreds of citizens who have gone to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria, as well as those involved in recruitment or radicalisation online. Cazeneuve outlined measures taken by the government in recent months to face a threat which has never been as high such as the creation of hundreds of new jobs for police, gendarmes and intelligence agents.
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