A man who fatally stabbed two women outside Marseilles’s main train station had been detained for shoplifting and released the day before the attack, and used multiple fake identities in a series of previous arrests, officials said Monday.
French authorities are studying the suspect’s cellphone and working to determine whether he had accomplices or direct links to the Islamic State terror group, which claimed responsibility for Sunday’s stabbing. The terrorist was killed by soldiers immediately after the attack, the latest of several targeting France.
The suspect was identified by his fingerprints, which matched those taken during previous arrests, according to two police officials. He wasn’t on France’s extremist watch list, according to the officials, who weren’t authorized to be publicly named discussing an ongoing investigation.
The man didn’t appear to have French residency papers and was detained for suspected shoplifting at a department store in the Lyon region Saturday before being released, according to police union official Yves Lefebvre.
“While it could shock the public, unfortunately it doesn’t shock us, the police” that the suspect was released the day before carrying out a deadly attack, said Yves Lefebvre of the Unite SGP Police union.
He said shoplifting usually results in a quick police report and a court summons for a later date, and the suspect is released.
“Nothing allowed us to suspect there was a threat of radicalization during the [Lyon] arrest,” he told The Associated Press.
He said the man used multiple pseudonyms and identity papers, making it difficult to determine his true identity — or even to find a house to search. He said authorities are pinning hopes on an iPhone found on the suspect for clues to his true identity and motives.
The victims were cousins between 17 and 21 years old, according to three police and judicial officials. It’s unclear if they had any link to the attacker.
Authorities opened a terrorism investigation, and the Paris prosecutor is giving a news conference about the attack later Monday.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said police have video that shows the man attacking a woman and running away, then coming back and attacking a second woman. Some witnesses reported hearing the assailant shout “All-hu akbar!” — Arabic for “G-d is great” — Collomb said.
The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said that the assailant was acting in response to the terror group’s calls to target countries in the U.S.-led coalition fighting terrorists in Syria and Iraq. France has been part of the anti-IS coalition since 2014. The Aamaq statement didn’t provide evidence of a direct link to the attacker, and it’s unclear if the claim is merely opportunistic.
Marseilles’s Saint Charles station reopened as usual Monday. Last month, four American college students were attacked with acid at the same station. French authorities said the female terrorist who doused the four Boston College students was suffering from mental illness.