Chechnya-born man behind Paris knife attack

An attacker who stabbed and killed a 29-year-old in central Paris on Saturday (May 12) night was a naturalised Frenchman born in Russia's Chechnya region in 1997, judicial sources said on Sunday.

21-year-old French assailant who killed one and injured four others was on terror watchlist

PARIS • Police yesterday scoured the background of a Frenchman born in Russia's Chechnya region who went on a knife attack in central Paris, as the government said the 21-year-old had been flagged previously as a potential security risk.

The assailant shouted "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest") as he stabbed a 29-year-old man to death and wounded four others, among them a Chinese and a Luxembourg citizen, before police shot him dead on Saturday.

The attack took place in the busy Opera district, known for its many restaurants, cafes and the Palais Garnier opera. It was one of a succession of attacks in France in which more than 240 people have died since January 2015, keeping the country on high alert.

The attacker was named by official sources as Khamzat A. He grew up with his family in the eastern city of Strasbourg, home to a large community of refugees from Chechnya, a Muslim republic. He obtained French citizenship in 2010.

Since 2016, he had been on a counter-terrorism watchlist of suspected radicals, said government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.

The stabbing exposed once again the difficulty European intelligence services face in keeping track of suspected extremists and countering the threat posed by home-grown militants and foreign extremists.

France is part of a US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and has thousands of soldiers in West Africa, where militants linked to Al-Qaeda are active.

French academic Mathieu Guidere, an expert on Islamist terrorism, said the attack could have been planned by Chechen extremists.

Over the past 20 years, Russia has fought two fierce wars with separatists in Chechnya, leading to the radicalisation of the territory and beyond. Radical groups see Muslims in the Russian Caucasus and Central Asia, who still face discrimination and harsh treatment by the authorities, as potential recruits.

Chechen warlord Akhmed Chatayev, who was killed last year, was believed to be behind a 2016 attack at Istanbul's Ataturk airport in which 45 people died.

"The priority target for Chechens is not Westerners. From this point of view, (the Paris attack) is something of a turning point because up to now, Chechen propaganda has been focused on 'kill all the Russians' rather than 'kill Westerners'," Mr Guidere told Agence France-Presse.

The reprise could be linked "to (Chechen Islamists') inability to carry out serious actions against the Russians in Syria or Russia, which makes the Islamic State group decide to use them against Westerners instead", he added.

President Emmanuel Macron said France would "not yield an inch to the enemies of freedom".

A judicial source said the assailant's parents were being held for questioning. Police also arrested and held for questioning a friend of the attacker in Strasbourg.

France bears "full responsibility" for the knife attack, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said yesterday. He identified the assailant as Hassan Azimov.

"He may have been born in Chechnya, but he grew up and formed his personality, his opinions and convictions within French society," said Mr Kadyrov.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Chechnya-born man behind Paris knife attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe