French terror suspect took selfie with beheaded victim

French terror suspect took selfie with beheaded victim

Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned France faced more attacks and assault in Lyon would increase tensions in the country, putting citizens’ resilience “to the test”.

By (Agencies)

Published: Sat 27 Jun 2015, 9:53 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:59 PM

Special forces of France's Research and Intervention Brigades (BRI) escort an unidentified woman as they leave the building housing the apartment of a man suspected of carrying out the attack. -AFP 

Paris - French police were grilling a suspected militant on Saturday about an attack in which the man displayed his boss’s severed head, in what appeared to be the second such attack in France this year.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who cut short an official trip to South America to rush home, warned France faced more attacks and that Friday’s assault on a gas factory near the second city of Lyon would increase tensions in the country, putting citizens’ resilience “to the test”.

No militant group has claimed Friday’s 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 26.

The other two attacks have been claimed by the Daesh group.

Suspect Yassin Salhi, a 35-year-old married father-of-three, 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 firefighters overpowered Salhi 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.

Cornara’s head was pinned to a nearby fence.

“The head was surrounded by two Islamic flags bearing the Shahada, the profession of (the Muslim) faith,” said prosecutor Francois Molins.

Authorities hope an autopsy, expected to be carried out later Saturday, will offer more clues. A source close to the case said it would seek to determine if the victim was first killed before being decapitated.

Meanwhile, in the town of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, shocked residents held a minute’s silence, followed by a pulsating rendition of France’s national anthem.

One man, Philippe Ouastani, said he turned out in solidarity with the victim. “It’s unheard of to decapitate someone in the 21st century. What weapons do we have to combat that? Being here, together.”

Another woman, wearing the Muslim headscarf, said she was “unable to speak” when she heard the news.

“These acts have got nothing to do with religion. The Prophet never said to kill innocent people,” raged the woman, who requested to remain anonymous.

She tried to find words to explain the killing to her four-year-son.

“There are naughty people who have done bad things. The police will put them in prison to punish them for their silly, silly actions,” she told him.

The gory attack in France came nearly six months after a three-day militant killing spree in Paris left 17 people dead, most of them gunned down in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Like the Charlie Hebdo attackers and Mohamed Merah who gunned down soldiers and Jewish children in the southwest city of Toulouse in 2012, Salhi had been known to security services for “radicalisation”, but slipped through the cracks.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Friday Salhi 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.

Suspect took selfie with beheaded victim 

The suspect took a “selfie” photo with the slain victim and sent the image via WhatsApp to a Canadian mobile phone number, officials said Saturday.

French investigators were working to confirm the identity of the recipient, but weren’t able to immediately confirm media reports that it was an unspecified person now in Syria, where the radical Daesh has seized territory, the security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Salhi, a truck driver with a history of radical Islamic ties, as well as his sister and wife remained in custody in the city of Lyon a day after he allegedly crashed a truck into an US-owned chemical warehouse and hung his employer’s severed head on a factory gate, officials have said.

One of the security officials said the selfie was forwarded via WhatsApp, the globally popular instant messaging system owned by Facebook, to a phone number in Canada.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. French authorities say Salhi had links to radical Salafists in the past.

Paris prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said earlier Saturday that Salhi was refusing to speak to police investigators. She said that one of the other suspects initially arrested on Friday was released without being charged. 

Speaking after a ministerial meeting on Saturday 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 insurgency in Iraq and Syria, as well as those involved in recruitment or radicalisation online.

Similarly, Europe has for months been bracing for so-called “lone wolf” attacks by supporters of Daesh, which has urged its followers to strike wherever they can.

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.

Some 230 million euros ($256 million) will also go to modernising surveillance methods to keep track of militants online.

Earlier this week, France passed a controversial new spying law granting sweeping powers to snoop on citizens.

Cazeneuve said the law allowed security services to be “better armed” to fight the militant threat.

Valls warned Friday’s attack would fuel tensions in France — home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim population — that “will be exploited”.

“This macabre act of decapitation, staged with flags, is new in France” and aimed at “making an impact,” Valls said.

“It’s difficult for a society to live for years under the threat of attack,” he told AFP on a flight back from Colombia.

“The question is not... if there will be another attack, but when.”

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