French knife attacker saw jihadist videos

Rambouillet, France: According to France's anti-terror prosecutor, a Tunisian man who stabbed to death a police officer outside Paris watched jihadist recruitment videos just before the attack, and a fifth person was arrested for questioning.

"His radicalization appears little in question," Jean-Francois Ricard said at a press conference, based on an examination of the killer's cellphone and social media postings.

The 36-year-old attacker, identified as Jamel Gorchene, stabbed a woman returning from a break at the Rambouillet police station in Rambouillet, a suburb southwest of Paris, on Friday.

He seized the woman from behind and stabbed her in the stomach and throat while screaming "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), according to Ricard.

A construction officer fired Gorchene after he refused to lower the knife, which had a 22-centimeter (nine-inch) tip.

Investigators later found on his phone that he had watched videos of songs celebrating jihadist fighters just moments before the assault.

After that, a Koran and a prayer rug were discovered in his scooter, according to Ricard.

Gorchene appears to have visited a temporary prayer hall in Rambouillet a few hours before arriving at the station, according to video surveillance cameras, though the photos do not indicate whether he entered the house.

Ricard said Gorchene's father, who was still being held for questioning on Sunday, "revealed that his son had adopted a rigorous practice of Islam."

"On the other hand, he also said that he had noticed behavioral troubles since the beginning of this year," he added.

A cousin and a couple who sheltered Gorchene after he arrived in France illegally in 2009 were also detained.

Another cousin was detained on Sunday, according to Ricard, as investigators try to figure out what caused the attack by a man who was unknown to any of France's security services and had no criminal record.

'Barbaric act' 

France has seen a surge of Islamist terror attacks in recent years, killing more than 250 people, with Ricard claiming the Rambouillet attack was the 17th since 2014.

Gorchene, who received a French residency permit last year, returned to Tunisia last month to visit his relatives, his first trip back after immigrating.

Ricard said investigators were collaborating with Tunisian authorities, and Tunisia's embassy in Paris "strongly condemned" a "barbaric act" committed during Ramadan.

According to Ricard, posts on Gorchene's Facebook page suggest that he was motivated to act after the jihadist murder of Samuel Paty, a schoolteacher, last October.

Also read | France reviews terror threat after suspected jihadist attack

Paty had enraged some students' parents by displaying controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed published by Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were also attacked in a deadly jihadist attack in 2015.

Following the murder of Paty, Gorchene adopted "an ideology that legitimizes aggression against all who offend the prophet," according to Ricard.

'Separated persons'

The government, according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, will present a new law this week to toughen anti-terror steps, including expanded use of computer algorithms to identify possible terror threats among internet users.

"We are now dealing with alienated people, increasingly younger and unknown to intelligence services, and often without any ties to existing Islamist groups," he told the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.

President Emmanuel Macron paid a visit to the Rambouillet police station on Saturday, as well as the bakery run by the victim's husband, a 49-year-old mother of two teenage girls.

The recent bloodshed and abuse against police officers are likely to focus attention on the threat of Islamic extremism in France, as well as broader concerns about security and immigration a year before presidential elections.

According to polls, Macron would face a difficult race against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accused the government of failing to eliminate "Islamism" in the aftermath of the attack.

Others, however, argue that Macron's attempts to combat religious extremism, such as making it easier for authorities to monitor foreign financing of mosques, risk stigmatizing or alienating French Muslims.

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