An employee at the Paris police headquarters who stabbed four colleagues to death in a frenzied attack adhered to “a radical vision of Islam”, an anti-terror prosecutor has said.
- The attacker had high-level “defence secrets” security clearance and no police record
- He exchanged 33 text messages with his wife before the attack with the entire conversation focused on religion
- French police have been a recurring target of jihadist groups
The 45-year-old computer expert had been in contact with members of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, and defended “atrocities committed in the name of that religion”, Jean-Francois Ricard told reporters.
Three police officers and an administrative worker — three men and one woman — died in the lunchtime attack on Thursday at the police headquarters, near the Notre Dame cathedral in the historic heart of Paris.
The assailant, named as Mickael Harpon, was shot dead by a policeman who was a trainee at the police headquarters.
The attack sent shockwaves through an embattled French police force already complaining of low morale and has raised serious concerns over security procedures.
The area around the police headquarters was put into lockdown after the stabbing. (Reuters: Philippe Wojazer)
Harpon, born on the French overseas territory of Martinique in the Caribbean, converted to Islam about 10 years ago, the prosecutor said. He had no police record but was investigated for domestic violence in 2009.
Sources said he had worked in a section of the police service dedicated to collecting information on jihadist radicalisation.
Harpon held a high-level “defence secrets” security clearance, which authorised him to handle sensitive information of national defence importance and would have subjected him to regular, stringent security checks.
On the morning of his “extremely violent” attack, Harpon bought two knives — a 33-centimetre-long kitchen knife and an oyster knife — which he kept hidden, Mr Ricard said.
He showed “absolutely no signs of nervousness” according to CCTV footage examined by police, the prosecutor said.
He first killed a 50-year-old police major and a 38-year-old guard who worked in the same office as Harpon and were having lunch at their desks.
He then went to another office on the same floor where he killed a 37-year-old administrative worker.
After trying to enter another office, which was locked, he went down into the courtyard where he stabbed a 39-year-old policewoman who later died of her wounds.
He then injured two other people, before the trainee policeman killed him with two shots.
Text exchange before deadly attack
Shortly before the attack he had exchanged 33 text messages with his wife.
The messages exclusively concerned religion, and the attacker ended the conversation with “Allahu Akbar”, which translates to “God is greatest” and told her to “follow our beloved prophet Mohammed and meditate on the Koran”, according to the prosecutor.
She was being held by police on Saturday.
Harpon’s high-level security clearance meant he would have been subjected to regular checks. (REUTERS: Christian Hartmann)
Harpon, who supported the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, had changed his attire in recent months, shunning “all Western clothes in favour of traditional garments to visit the mosque”, Mr Ricard said.
He also wished to no longer “have certain kinds of contact with women”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has described the attack as a “veritable tragedy”, will lead tributes to the victims on Tuesday, the Elysee announced on Saturday.
‘There’s a storm coming’
After Saturday’s news conference by the anti-terror prosecutor, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner came under pressure from political opponents who demanded his resignation.
They also called for an inquiry into how Harpon could have failed to attract the attention of security services in the run up to the attack.
“It’s going to be hard to explain how he kept below the radar” of anti-terror units, one police source said.
“There’s a storm coming,” the source said.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe meanwhile expressed his “full confidence” in Mr Castaner.
But in an interview with weekly newspaper JDD, he also said procedures for the detection of signs that anti-terror agents may themselves have been radicalised would be probed.
Paris’s top policeman Didier Lallement said there was no reason to question security arrangements in police headquarters.
French police have been a recurring target of jihadist groups, such as Islamic State, behind a wave of attacks since 2015 — from large synchronised assaults to isolated knife and gun attacks.
In June, a parliamentary report on radicalisation within the public services spoke of 30 suspected cases out of the 150,000 police officers and 130,000 gendarmes in France.