The Islamist terrorist who staged a failed attack on a Paris police station last week had been living in a home for asylum seekers in western Germany, police said, deepening fears that terrorists may be infiltrating Europe disguised as migrants.
Revelations that the assailant – fatally shot by French authorities on Thursday as he approached a police station with a butcher knife and a fake suicide vest – was trying to pass himself off as an asylum seeker is likely to trigger further debate about the vetting and processing of hundreds of thousands of newcomers seeking sanctuary in Europe from the war-torn Middle East. The man had gone under several aliases, and at one point he claimed to be from Syria, according to German news reports.
Several terrorists in the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris that killed 130 people also are thought to have used the same routes being traveled by a record number of asylum seekers and economic migrants. They include at least two attackers who entered Europe posing as Syrian asylum-seekers on the Greek island of Leros.
Acting on a tip from French authorities, German police searched an asylum center on Saturday in Recklinghausen, in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where the suspect in last week’s attempted attack is thought to have lived. The man, according to Die Welt news outlet, had claimed asylum in Germany under four aliases but had claimed legal asylum under the name of Walid Salihi.
German police would not provide further details. But according to Der Spiegel, authorities had classified the man as a “suspicious case.” He had allegedly drawn a symbol of the Islamic State terror group – which asserted responsibility for the Paris attacks – on a wall in the asylum seekers’ home in September. He is also believed to have posed with an Islamic State flag.
“It is and remains our humanitarian and legal duty to give shelter to people fleeing their homes because they fear for their lives,” said Christoph Tesche, mayor of Recklinghausen. “It is also our duty – especially towards our citizens – to work very intensely together with all responsible agencies to prevent people with such intentions from hiding in our facilities.”
Last week, French officials initially identified the would-be terrorist as a petty thief named Sallah Ali from Morocco, but later said he appeared to have been misidentified.
Authorities now believe he may have been a Tunisian man named Tarek Belgacem, according to Agence France-Presse. After the attempted attack on Thursday, police discovered a paper on his body with an Islamic State flag, as well as a handwritten note in Arabic asserting responsibility for the act. On Friday, Paris prosecutor François Molins said the suspect had a phone with a German SIM card.
On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has maintained one of the most welcoming policies toward refugees in Europe – said she would back new laws aimed at quickly deporting asylum seekers and refugees who commit criminal offenses.