Gunman goes from dealing in drugs to radicalisation

PARIS • The gunman who killed three people in south-west France before being shot dead by police was a 25-year-old small-time drug dealer with a history of minor crimes.

The rap sheet of Radouane Lakdim, a French citizen born in Morocco according to sources close to the inquiry, eventually drew deeper scrutiny by investigators worried he was at risk of Islamic radicalisation.

In 2014, Lakdim, who lived in the city of Carcassonne, was put on a watch list of people considered possible extremists. "He was added to the list because of his radicalisation and his links with the Salafist movement" of ultra-conservative Islamism, said Mr Francois Molins, France's top anti-terror prosecutor.

Lakdim was found guilty of carrying a prohibited weapon in 2011, and later of drug use and refusing a court order in 2015, Mr Molins said.

In 2016 and last year he was the subject of an investigation by intelligence services, "which did not bring to light any sign that would indicate he would carry out a terrorist act," he added.

But upon bursting into the Super U supermarket in nearby Trebes on Friday, Lakdim shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest), declared he was ready to die for Syria, and demanded freedom for his "brothers" before going on a rampage.

"He was just a regular kid, from a simple and regular family," a neighbour told Agence France-Presse, asking to remain anonymous. "We were really surprised to learn it was him."

Le Parisien newspaper reported that Lakdim lived with his parents, and quoted a neighbour saying he had dropped off a little sister at school on Friday morning.

On Friday night a massive police operation was being carried out at the Ozanam housing estate in Carcassonne where Lakdim lived, not far from the police headquarters where he had shot at officers earlier.

Lakdim's trajectory appears to have followed a grimly familiar pattern in France over recent years of young men progressing from petty crimes into terrorism, often despite surveillance by the authorities.

After gunmen carried out coordinated attacks at the Stade de France, the Bataclan concert hall and nearby bars in Paris in November 2015, investigators found that the ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving terror suspect, had both served time for robbery around 2011.

"The acts carried out today remind us once more, tragically, that the terrorist threat level on our territory has not lessened," Mr Molins said on Friday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 25, 2018, with the headline 'Gunman goes from dealing in drugs to radicalisation'. Print Edition | Subscribe