Marseille attack

Marseille attack: Suspect held and released day before fatal stabbings

The assailant, seen here on the ground surrounded by French police officers, was shot dead by a soldier from the military Sentinelle patrol, a force deployed across the country under a state of emergency declared after ISIS attacks began almost two y
The assailant, seen here on the ground surrounded by French police officers, was shot dead by a soldier from the military Sentinelle patrol, a force deployed across the country under a state of emergency declared after ISIS attacks began almost two years ago.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Man, who had seven identities, was arrested for shoplifting but released due to lack of evidence

PARIS • A man suspected of carrying out a knife attack in the French city of Marseille, in which two women were stabbed to death, had been arrested and then released by police the day before the incident, the Paris public prosecutor has said.

The prosecutor, Mr Francois Molins, told a news conference yesterday that the suspect, who was shot dead by a French soldier, went by seven different identities.

One identified him as "Ahmed H", born in 1987 in Tunisia.

The suspect had shown a Tunisian passport when he was last stopped by police in the city of Lyon last Friday on suspicion of shoplifting. He was subsequently released on Saturday due to lack of evidence, a day before he carried out Sunday's attack.

"The attacker had been pointed out on seven different occasions since 2005, under seven different identities. The last time, on Sept 29, related to an arrest in Lyon over shoplifting," Mr Molins said.

He added that none of the suspect's seven different identities had thrown up any alert on French anti-terrorist check lists. The authorities are trying now to establish his real name and the authenticity of the Tunisian passport he had shown.

Police sources said the suspect had shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) in Arabic as he attacked the women at Marseille's main railway station on Sunday, in what the authorities described as a "probable terrorist act".

The two women, 20-year-old cousins from the eastern city of Lyon, were killed. One had been a student in Marseille while the other was visiting her for the weekend.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack but did not name the assailant. Mr Molins did not confirm or deny any suspected involvement by ISIS.

He said the suspect had told police he lived in Lyon, was homeless, divorced and had problems with drug abuse.

The assailant was shot dead by a soldier from the military Sentinelle patrol, a force deployed across the country under a state of emergency declared after ISIS attacks began almost two years ago.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Sunday that he was "deeply angered by this barbaric act".

The attack comes as Parliament prepares to vote today on a controversial anti-terror Bill that transfers some of the exceptional powers granted to police under a 22-month-old state of emergency into national law.

Multiple attacks by militants killed 130 people in Paris in 2015. Last year, a gunman drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 86 people. Both attacks were claimed by ISIS.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Suspect held and released day before fatal stabbings'. Print Edition | Subscribe