French police say suspected Paris attacker of Chechnyan origin
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Investigators on Sunday scoured the background of a 20-year-old Frenchman born in Chechnya who killed one man and wounded four other people during a stabbing spree in central Paris, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
According to a judicialsource said the man's parents have been taken into custody for questioning. Later Sunday, the same source said a friend of the suspect had been arrested and taken into questioning in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.
An assailant shouting “Allahu akbar” was shot dead by police in central Paris late Saturday, minutes after he attacked people near the city’s main opera house a popular neighbourhood full of bars, restaurants and party-goers every weekend.
The suspect has not been named, but sources close to the inquiry say the Frenchman was on an anti-terror watchlist of suspected extremists, although he did not have a criminal record.
Witnesses described the scenes as Parisians realised another potential terror attack was underway in a country that has already seen over 245 people killed in just three years.
“I was taking orders and I saw a young woman trying to get into the restaurant,” Jonathan, a waiter at a Korean restaurant, told AFP. The woman was bleeding and the attacker appeared behind her. He said a young man tried to fend off the assailant who then fled.
“The attacker entered a shopping street, I saw him with a knife in his hand,” he said. “He looked crazy.”
Milan, 19, said he saw “several people in distress” including a woman with wounds to her neck and leg.
“Firemen were giving her first aid. I heard two, three shots and a policeman told me that the man had been overpowered.”
Authorities cited witnesses as saying the man shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) as he went on the rampage, killing a 29-year-old man, adding that a terror investigation had been launched.
1) I came out of a comedy show near Opera in central Paris and was immediately told to go back in because there was a madman with a knife. Once back inside we heard sirens and 2 gun shots. I then spoke to eyewitnesses who told me a man stabbed multilple people at random. pic.twitter.com/xvTmAv0ckbCharles Pellegrin (@ChPilgrim) May 12, 2018
FRANCE 24 journalist Charles Pellegrin was attending a comedy show near the scene at the time of the attack. “The moment that I stepped out of the venue, a man ran by telling us… to go back into the venue and to hide there because there was, in his own words, ‘a madman with a knife’,” Pellegrin recounted later.
“We started hearing sirens and, eventually, five minutes later, we heard two gunshots,” Pellegrin added. “Outside, I crossed paths with tourists who had seen what happened, telling me that a man started stabbing people randomly, some on the street, some in restaurants, and eventually was stopped by police.”
The assailant had no identifying documents on him. A source with knowledge of the case told AFP he was a young man with brown hair and a beard who was dressed in black tracksuit trousers.
Wounded expected to survive
The Islamic State group (IS) claimed responsibility, according to the SITE monitoring group, but provided no corroborating proof to back their assertion.
“The executor of the stabbing operation in the city of Paris is a soldier of the Islamic State and the operation was carried out in response to the calls to target the coalition states,” a “security source” told IS’s official Amaq news agency, according to SITE.
Two of those wounded were rushed to hospital in a serious condition but Interior Minister Gérard Collomb later told reporters all the victims were recovering.
“I have just seen the person who was most seriously injured, she is better,” he said.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the police were on the scene “within five minutes” of the attack and that some nine minutes later the assailant was dead, he added.
“The speed of the response obviously avoided a heavier toll,” he said.
🔴 Agression de 5 personnes dans le 2ème arrondissement de Paris par un individu armé d’un couteau: une victime est décédée, deux sont blessées grièvement et deux sont blessées légèrement. L’agresseur est décédé.Préfecture de police (@prefpolice) 12 mai 2018
A police source told AFP one officer tried to restrain the attacker with a taser but when that failed a colleague shot the man dead.
“He did not react to being tased. That made him more angry, if anything,” said FRANCE 24’s Pellegrin, citing eyewitnesses he spoke with at the scene. “When that didn’t work they then shot him twice,” he added.
Scenes of panic
The attack took place on Rue Monsigny in the second arrondissement, an area that lies between the the capital's famed opera house and the Louvre museum, two major tourist attractions. A large area was cordoned off where police, fire and rescue vehicles converged.
Shocked tourists and residents looked on from behind the security perimeter.
“I was on the cafe terrace, I heard three, four shots, it happened very fast,” said 47-year-old Gloria.
“The bartenders told us to come inside very quickly. Then I went out to see what was going on, and then I saw a man on the ground,” she added.
Another witness Maxine said, “We saw someone coming out of a building who said he saw the assailant kill someone, so people took refuge in the bar.”
France has endured a series of major Islamist attacks including the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 in Paris, and the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice that killed more than 80.
There have also been a string of less deadly but frequent attacks by lone wolf jihadists wielding knives or guns. Most of the attacks have either been claimed by the Islamic State group or been carried out in their name.
A state of emergency put in place just after the 2015 Paris attacks was lifted in October when Macron’s centrist government passed a new law boosting the powers of security forces.
Thousands of French troops remain on the streets under an anti-terror operation known as Sentinelle, patrolling transport hubs, tourist hotspots and other sensitive sites.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)