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'Radicalised' inmate slashes guards in French prison attack

An emergency medical helicopter and elite police units were dispatched to the high-security prison in Conde-sur-Sarthe in Normandy
An emergency medical helicopter and elite police units were dispatched to the high-security prison in Conde-sur-Sarthe in Normandy AFP
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Caen (France) (AFP)

A prison inmate in northwestern France seriously wounded two guards on Tuesday in a knife attack that officials said was being treated as a terror incident.

"There is no doubt as to the terrorist nature of this attack," Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told reporters.

The inmate "is still holed up" in the prison facility where his partner was visiting him at the time, she added early Tuesday afternoon.

Regional and elite police units have been dispatched to the high-security prison in Conde-sur-Sarthe in Normandy, officials said.

The 27-year-old inmate, Michael Chiolo, is thought to have become a "radicalised" Islamist while in prison and shouted "Allahu Akhbar" (God is Greatest) during his rampage in the family-visiting area of the facility, prison staff representative Alassanne Sall told AFP.

France has suffered a series of attacks from Islamist extremists since 2015 and is on high alert amid concerns about the return of Islamic State group jihadists from Syria.

The latest violence comes as prison staff nationwide, who have been demanding better working conditions, have repeatedly staged protests on Tuesdays.

In January 2018, prison staff held three weeks of protests after a guard was attacked by a jihadist inmate at a high-security jail in northern France.

Experts and trade unions have consistently raised the alarm about the spread of extremism in French prisons, leading the government to build special facilities to house dangerous individuals who are sometimes held in solitary confinement.

- 'Blood everywhere' -

Chiolo was armed with a ceramic knife on Tuesday and police are investigating if his partner gave him the weapon, the minister said.

"It was truly a murder attempt. There was blood everywhere. The family-visiting unit was a battle scene," said Sall, from the Force Ouvriere trade union.

One of the guards suffered a serious chest wound, while the second was slashed on the face and back, he added.

The prisoner is serving a 30-year sentence for kidnapping leading to a death, armed robbery and condoning terrorism.

He and an accomplice were sentenced on appeal in 2015 for choking to death an 89-year-old man they had tied up while robbing his home.

He was also sentenced to a year in jail -- when already in prison -- for asking fellow inmates to "reenact" an attack by Islamic State gunmen on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November 2015.

The jihadists, armed wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles, killed 90 people in the concert hall, one of several venues attacked on the same day in and around Paris.

"After Paris, I would have carried on in other parts of the country," he reportedly told another inmate, according to prison staff.

The Conde-sur-Sarthe prison is one of the most secure French prisons and does not suffer from overcrowding, unlike other facilities, according to Belloubet.

But despite having been identified as an extremist, Chiolo was not housed in a secure wing for radicalised inmates which was opened in September, she added.

The inmate's lawyer, Pauline Brion, said he had met his partner while in prison and that he intended to marry her.

"He had written to someone after converting (to Islam) for them to find him a wife," the lawyer told AFP.

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