French PM backs security forces after new terror attack

French President Francois Hollande says the country is facing a high threat from terrorism after a man attacked and killed a policeman and his partner with a knife.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that he anticipates more terror attacks despite increased efforts to prevent them.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that he anticipates more terror attacks despite increased efforts to prevent them.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) – Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended France’s security forces Wednesday (June 15) after the first deadly terrorist attack on French soil since the Paris massacres last November.

Valls rebutted criticism that the authorities could have thwarted the bloody assault.

“I will not let anyone say there was any negligence or lack of judgment” by the security forces, he told France Inter radio.

He noted that a lone attack was hard to prevent and repeated a warning – iterated many times since November – that terrorism was an inevitable threat.

“We will experience further attacks in the future because we are facing a terrorist organisation which is on the retreat in Syria and Iraq and which is projecting itself in our countries in various forms... in order to sow fear and division,” Valls said.

President Francois Hollande was to join a minute’s silence at noon at the interior ministry, which was also to be observed at police stations around the country.

Flags at the ministry are to remain at half-mast for three days.

France, which is hosting the Euro 2016 football championships, is on maximum alert following the Nov 13 attacks in Paris by an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cell that claimed 130 lives.

In Monday night’s assault, 25-year-old Larossi Abballa, previously convicted for jihadism, killed a police officer and his partner, also a police employee, before streaming his claim for the murders live on Facebook.

He stabbed 42-year-old police commander Jean-Baptiste Salvaing outside his home at Magnanville, a Paris suburb north-west of the capital.

He took Salvaing’s 36-year-old partner Jessica Schneider and the couple’s three-year-old son hostage in the house and killed the woman by slitting her throat.

Abballa died when police stormed the home and found the little boy physically unhurt but traumatised. He is now in hospital.

Abballa streamed a live video on Facebook of himself with the child in which he admitted the murders and urged fellow terrorists to carry out more bloodshed.

He promised “other surprises for the Euro”, calling on supporters to “turn the Euro into a graveyard". Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said police had found a hit list at the scene naming police, rappers and journalists to be targeted.

They also found three knives, one of them covered in blood.

Abballa, from the nearby suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie, told police negotiators before his death that he had sworn loyalty to the ISIS  group three weeks earlier.

Facebook later removed Abballa’s video and said it was “working closely” with the French authorities.

“Terrorists and acts of terrorism have no place on Facebook. Whenever terrorist content is reported to us, we remove it as quickly as possible.

We treat takedown requests by law enforcement with the highest urgency,” it said.

Three associates of Abballa aged 27, 29 and 44 have been arrested over the attack, Molins said.

Two of them were convicted alongside him in 2013 over their involvement in a network recruiting terrorists for Pakistan.

Abballa was sentenced to three years in prison, with six months suspended, but was freed because he had served the time awaiting trial.

Right-wing critics called Tuesday for “retention centres” for radical Islamists, in the same way that individuals with dangerous mental health problems can be detained.

But Valls ruled out the idea as flawed and “dangerous”.

Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas, in an interview with France Info news television, said the scheme was impractical, noting: “In France, we don’t judge intentions, we judge deeds.” 

Abballa had been under phone surveillance since February, but nothing had been found “to indicate he was preparing to carry out a violent act”, Urvoas said.

The killings also took place barely 36 hours after the massacre at a gay club in Orlando by an ISIS-inspired gunman.

Hollande spoke by phone with US President Barack Obama to discuss the terror threat.

The deaths are the first police fatalities in a terrorist attack since January 2015 when gunmen attacked the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, a Jewish supermarket and the police, killing 17 people including three officers.

Police unions announced they had secured the right for officers to remain armed while off duty, which has until now been allowed only under the state of emergency declared after November’s Paris attacks.