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France

One French church attacker identified as teen under house arrest

© Charly Triballeau, AFP | French police patrol the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray, where a priest was killed on July 26, 2016.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-07-27

The 19-year-old Normandy native who killed an elderly French priest during a church service on Tuesday was under house arrest for two failed attempts to reach Syria and was wearing an electronic bracelet at the time of the attack, investigators said.

Adel Kermiche, one of two assailants who attacked a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in northern France on Tuesday, was wearing an electronic surveillance bracelet at the time of the attack, according to French Prosecutor François Molins.

Kermiche was first arrested in March 2015 by German police when he tried to use his brother’s passport to travel to Syria. He was returned to his family home but ran away again one month later.

Two months after his first attempt, he tried to go to Syria again via Turkey, but was detained and sent back to France via Switzerland.

Kermiche spent the next several months in a French prison before his release earlier this year but remained under house arrest. The teenager was fitted with an electronic surveillance device that allowed him to leave his house on weekdays between 8am and 12.30pm, Molins said.

The attack happened around 9.25am during morning Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen, when two assailants interrupted the service and charged up to the altar, where they slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old Roman Catholic priest.

The two attackers were shot dead by police as they emerged from the church. The second assailant has not been formally identified.

A ‘sermon’ in Arabic, recorded by attackers

The attack, the first on a Western church claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, shocked France and has been condemned across the world by religious leaders, including Pope Francis.

Witnesses said the assailants recorded the attack from the altar of the church.

“They forced [Father Hamel] to his knees. He wanted to defend himself, and that's when the tragedy happened," a Roman Catholic nun, identified as Sister Danielle, told French media. "They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror."

Sister Danielle managed to escape and call the police, who upon arrival tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers through a small door.

But police were unable to launch an assault on the church as three hostages – two nuns and one worshipper – were lined up in front of the door, Molins said.

The hostages then exited the church followed by the two attackers, one carrying a handgun. The assailants charged police, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (“God is great”) before officers opened fire.

One parishioner was severely wounded in the attack.

Charlie Hebdo attack ‘acted as a detonator’

Born in 1997 near the northern French city of Rouen, Kermiche was raised on a housing estate in Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray.

His mother, a teacher, told the Swiss French-language daily Tribune de Genève that the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015 "acted as a detonator" on the teen. "He said we could not practice our religion in peace in France," she said. "He was speaking with words that did not belong to him. He was bewitched, like he was in a cult."

Shortly after the family confronted the boy over a secret Facebook account he used to contact other radicalised youth, Kermiche made his first attempt to go to Syria to join the IS group. He used his brother’s passport but was apprehended by German police.

For his second attempt he used his cousin’s ID, but was once again detained and sent back to France, where he was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime with a terrorist organisation and held until March 2016.

‘I knew it was him’

His involvement in the attack came as no surprise to the residents of Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray who knew him. "I saw him last Saturday, in the centre of Rouen,” a neighbour, who identified himself only by his first name of Redwan, told reporters Tuesday morning. “He was wearing a kameez (a long tunic). And this morning … I was told that an attack occurred, and I knew it was him, I was sure.”

According to Redwan, the teen talked openly about his attempts to go to Syria. “We tried to bring him to his senses. [But] every time we did, he cited a verse from the Koran – he was inventing things. He was saying that we should go there (to Syria) and fight for our brothers."

Police on Tuesday raided the home of Kermiche’s parents, who had alerted French authorities about their son’s radicalisation after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

A minor was taken into custody on Tuesday morning in connection with the attack.

Attack on ‘crusaders’

The two attackers were carrying a "fake explosive device covered in aluminium foil" when they entered the Catholic church, according to Molins.

Shortly after the police arrived, they used their hostages as human shields to block authorities from entering the church, he said.

Tuesday’s attack by the IS group appears to fulfill its longstanding threat against "crusaders" in what the militants paint as a centuries-old battle for power.

The incident comes as France remains under high alert after an attack in Nice that killed 84 people and a string of deadly attacks last year claimed by the IS group.

Date created : 2016-07-26

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