Minds of the killers

The incredulous family of Abdel Malik Petitjean describes him as perfectly normal. Mohammad Daleel was likely self-radicalised and possibly influenced by militant propaganda. Adel Kermiche has been described as a religious fanatic by his father. A ma
A makeshift memorial in front of the Saint-Etienne du Rouvray church where the French priest Jacques Hamel was killed on Tuesday by two young men said to have pledged allegiance to ISIS. Both youths were shot dead by police later.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The incredulous family of Abdel Malik Petitjean describes him as perfectly normal. Mohammad Daleel was likely self-radicalised and possibly influenced by militant propaganda. Adel Kermiche has been described as a religious fanatic by his father. A ma
Adel Kermiche has been described as a religious fanatic by his father. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The incredulous family of Abdel Malik Petitjean describes him as perfectly normal. Mohammad Daleel was likely self-radicalised and possibly influenced by militant propaganda. Adel Kermiche has been described as a religious fanatic by his father. A ma
The incredulous family of Abdel Malik Petitjean describes him as perfectly normal.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The incredulous family of Abdel Malik Petitjean describes him as perfectly normal. Mohammad Daleel was likely self-radicalised and possibly influenced by militant propaganda. Adel Kermiche has been described as a religious fanatic by his father. A ma
Mohammad Daleel was likely self-radicalised and possibly influenced by militant propaganda.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

More details have emerged about the three ISIS militants who struck at a church in France as well as a concert in Germany in the latest spate of attacks on Western powers.

1 FRENCH PRIEST KILLER WAS 'SYRIA-OBSESSED TIME-BOMB'

SAINT-ETIENNE-DU-ROUVRAY (France) • Adel Kermiche, one of the assailants who slit the throat of an elderly French priest, was obsessed with going to Syria to fight the regime and had threatened to attack churches, neighbours and acquaintances said.

The 19-year-old Frenchman, born to a family of Algerian origin, had been known to the French authorities before Tuesday's shock attack in a Normandy church and was described by one acquaintance as a "time bomb".

Kermiche and his accomplice Abdel Malik Petitjean, also 19, stormed the church in Saint-Etienne-du- Rouvray, taking priest Jacques Hamel hostage along with three nuns and two worshippers before slitting the elderly cleric's throat.

Both youths were shot dead by police after negotiations failed and they ran towards officers shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest), with one of them carrying a handgun. A video published by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) shows the two pledging allegiance to the extremist movement.

Kermiche lived in his parents' modest home - less than 2km from the church - where he spent much of the day under house arrest, fitted with an electronic tag while awaiting trial for alleged links to terror.

"It took two months (for him to become radicalised) and he was no longer my little brother. It was religion above everything. I don't know what happened to him, it was a real brainwashing," Kermiche's sister told local media. It is not clear what was the time frame she referred to.

Kermiche's father also described him as a religious fanatic, the Guardian news website reported.

A family member had raised the alarm after Kermiche first went missing, destined for war-torn Syria in March last year.

He was detained and released on bail, but fled home weeks later and was ultimately traced to Turkey where he was held on May 13 last year. He was arrested on his return to France and remanded in custody before being released on bail under strict house arrest conditions.

STANDING FIRM

The terrorists... see hatred and fear between cultures and they see hatred and fear between religions. We stand decisively against that.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL

One of his acquaintances, a youngster from the Saint-Etienne area, told Le Parisien newspaper he was a "hyperactive child" who was excluded from school at the age of 12 due to "behaviour issues".

"He only spoke about Syria, and his dream of killing (Syrian President) Bashar (al-Assad's) soldiers," the youth said.

"He was the youngest and had psychological problems," said Ms Annie Geslin, who worked with Adel's mother for many years.

"His family gave him all their love to prevent their child from going astray," she said. "But they did not manage to get their son back to more normal behaviour."

2 PETITJEAN: 'GENTLE' CHILD TURNED PRIEST KILLER

AIX-LES-BAINS (France) • Abdel Malik Petitjean, 19, identified as the second attacker in the killing of the French priest Jacques Hamel, was described as perfectly normal by his incredulous family and friends.

Unlike his accomplice Adel Kermiche, Petitjean was unknown to police until last month when he tried to go to Syria.

Petitjean was born to a family of Algerian origin and lived in the quiet lakeside town of Aix-les-Bains in the shadow of the Alps, popular with visitors seeking thermal cures.

The resort is 700km from the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray whose centuries-old church was stormed by Petitjean and Kermiche.

Mr Djamel Tazghat, who manages the mosque in the suburb where Petitjean lived in social housing, said of the young man: "I liked him a lot. We never had a problem with him at the mosque. No strange observations, he was always smiling... It's incredible.

UNYIELDING

France will always be France, because France never yields and because France always carries the ideals, the values and the principles that gain us recognition around the world. It’s when you stoop so low that you’re no longer yourself.

FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, IN RESPONSE TO MR DONALD TRUMP’S REMARK ON FRANCE.

"All the believers are shocked because he was known for his kindness, his calm... What was going on inside his head?"

Petitjean - whose identity card was found at Kermiche's house - had never been convicted of a crime in France so his DNA and fingerprints were not available to speed up the identification process.

He came on the radar of French police in June after he tried to travel to Syria from Turkey, and was placed on France's "Fiche S" of people posing a potential threat to national security.

Sources close to the investigation said Petitjean "strongly resembles" a man hunted by anti-terrorism police in the days before the attack over fears he was about to carry out an act of terror. The sources said France's anti-terrorism police unit Uclat sent out a note four days before the attack saying it had received "reliable" information about a person "about to carry out an attack on national territory".

Unlike Kermiche and other terrorists carrying out recent attacks in Europe, there were no indications that Petitjean suffered from psychological problems.

After finishing high school in 2015, he worked part-time in sales jobs and his resume said he liked science-fiction movies, video games, music and boxing.

"It is hard to believe. He was against (ISIS). He was not radical at all," said Hakim, 17, who claimed he was Petitjean's friend.

His mother, Yamina Boukessoula, refused to believe her son was involved when she spoke to AFP just hours before the official confirmation. "He was a good French citizen. He is gentle. I know my child, I know my son. He was not involved at all," she said.

She said he had left their home on Monday to visit his cousin in the north-eastern city of Nancy. His last text message to his mother came on Tuesday morning, just before the attack: "Don't worry, everything is fine... I love you."

3 SUICIDE BOMBER IN ANSBACH, GERMANY, PLEDGED LOYALTY TO ISIS, OFFICIALS SAY

ANSBACH (Germany) • The 27-year- old Syrian who blew himself up last Sunday evening outside a bar in southern Germany, injuring 15 people, had been treated for psychiatric problems and had twice tried to kill himself, officials said.

Mohammad Daleel had also been detained for drug possession and other petty crimes, the German authorities said.

Daleel had sought asylum in Bulgaria and Austria before arriving in Germany in 2014. Although he was due to be deported back to Bulgaria - where he had earlier been granted asylum - officials delayed the order because of what they believed to be his fragile mental state.

Initial police theories suggest Daleel was likely a self-radicalised figure possibly influenced by militant propaganda.

ISIS has released a purported video of Daleel issuing a pre-attack diatribe in which he vows that Germans "will never sleep well again".

Mr Mubariz Mahmood, 28, an asylum-seeker from Pakistan who lives in the same refugee shelter in Ansbach as Daleel, said he had spoken several times with the latter and had never had any problems with him. "I am shocked," he said. "When I heard it was him, I was thinking, How could he do this?"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Minds of the killers'. Print Edition | Subscribe