PARIS, Jan 7, (Agencies): The man shot dead trying to attack a Paris police station on Thursday was convicted of theft in 2013, a source close to the investigation told AFP. Investigators matched the man’s fingerprints with those on file for the convicted thief, a homeless man who identified himself at the time as Sallah Ali, born in the Moroccan city of Casablanca in 1995.
French police shot dead a man wielding a meat cleaver after he tried to enter a police station on Thursday, the anniversary of militant attacks in Paris, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) and wearing what turned out to be a fake suicide belt.
The Paris prosecutor said the man had also been carrying a mobile phone and sheet of paper bearing the Islamic State flag and claims of responsibility by the militant group written in Arabic. The incident took place exactly one year after deadly Islamist militant attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in the French capital and also just minutes after President Francois Hollande had given a speech in an another part of Paris to mark the anniversary.
In his statement, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said a terrorism inquiry had been opened into the incident, which occurred in the 18th district of the capital, an area Islamic State said it had planned to strike in November. “(The man) shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and had wires protruding from his clothes. That’s why the police officer opened fire,” said a police official. French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre- Henry Brandet later said the suicide belt the man was wearing had proved to be fake.
France has been on high alert ever since the shootings last January at the Charlie Hebdo office and at a Jewish supermarket in which 17 people died over three days. Security concerns were further heightened in November, when 130 people were killed in the capital in coordinated shootings and suicide bombings that targeted a music hall, bars and restaurants and a soccer stadium. Islamic State, the militant group that controls swathes of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the Nov 13 attacks.
Several of the militants involved in those attacks were, like last January’s killers, French-born. Journalist Anna Polonyi, who could see the outside of the police station from the window of her flat, posted photos on social media that showed what appeared to be a bomb-disposal robot beside the body of the man, who was wearing blue jeans and a grey coat.
Polonyi told Reuters her sister, in the flat with her, had seen the incident happen. She said the police shouted at the man and that he then started running towards them before they shot him. In his speech, Hollande promised to equip police better to prevent further militant attacks. He also defended draconian security measures implemented since November that his Socialist government had once shunned.
Last year’s attacks have boosted the popularity of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front party ahead of a presidential election due in 2017. “Terrorism has not stopped posing a threat to our country,” said Hollande.
Since the November attacks, Paris has increased its efforts at striking jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, becoming the second largest contributor to the US-led coalition against Islamic State. Security measures at home have included a three-month state of emergency during which the police have launched hundreds of raids on homes, mosques, restaurants and hotels. Press campaign group Reporters Without Borders marked Thursday’s fi rst anniversary of the attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo by warning against what it called “religious correctness”.
The organisation cautioned against what it called “the insidious imposition of a ‘religious correctness’ that poses a major threat to the journalistic freedom to inform others (and make them laugh),” in a statement. It noted the controversy sparked by the cover of Charlie Hebdo’s Wednesday edition, which depicts a gun-toting God fi gure on the run. The Vatican criticised the cover for failing to “acknowledge or to respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion.” It added: “Using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy.” The fi ercely secular publication’s drawings of the Prophet Mohammed drew the fury of Muslims around the world and inspired the bloody attack on its offi ces on Jan 7 last year.