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Macron pays tribute to officers killed in knife attack at Paris police headquarters

Screengrab, France 24

French President Emmanuel Macron led a national tribute Tuesday to the four police employees slain in last week's knife attack in Paris, calling them "victims of Islamic terrorism".

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At a ceremony at the police headquarters in the heart of Paris where they were stabbed to death in last Thursday's bloody rampage, a solemn Macron endured drizzly rain as he paid homage to the three police officers and one police administrator killed by their colleague.

"They had made the choice to wear the uniform, to devote their lives to protecting others. They died in service, at work," said Macron, who also met privately with families of the victims.

"The whole nation (must) unite, mobilise, act ... We will only win if our country gets up to fight against this underground Islamism that corrupts the children of France," he added.

“It was a nationalistic and angry speech by French President Emmanuel Macron as he paid tribute to the four members of the police force who were killed by one of their own last Thursday,” said FRANCE 24’s Nadia Massih, reporting from police headquarters after the ceremony. “Emmanuel Macron pointing the finger at Islamist extremism and saying it was an ideology that France would continue to fight.”

But Macron’s government, Massih noted, “has come under increasing pressure in recent days as it’s emerged that the individual attacker had praised the Charlie Hebdo attacks as far back as 2015, but no action was taken at that time”.

French President Emmanuel Macron's full speech

Interior minister under pressure

French prosecutors are investigating the killings as a potential act of terrorism as it transpired the attacker likely had links with members of an ultra-conservative Islamic movement.

Mickael Harpon, a 45-year-old IT assistant with a hearing impairment who worked in the police intelligence unit, converted to Islam around 10 years ago and had recently adopted increasingly radical beliefs, according to investigators. He used a kitchen knife and an oyster shucker to kill his four colleagues before he was gunned down by a police officer.

Although French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner initially said there were "no warning signs" ahead of the attack, he has since acknowledged breaches in security over a failure to detect any indication of the attacker's radicalisation.

Castaner is appearing before two parliamentary committees this week, including a hearing before parliament's intelligence committee on Tuesday. On Thursday, Castaner will appear before another parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing the workings of the justice system.

The legislature said in a statement Monday it would seek answers about "the conditions that allowed a criminal attack to take place within the police headquarters".

Its enquiry will also focus on warning signals that may have been missed, and "more generally, on the measures taken by the government ... regarding the detection of radicalised agents in the administration and measures taken to protect the public service against the risks posed by such agents".

USB sticks with jihadist propaganda

Anti-terror police investigating the attack found USB sticks with Islamic State (IS) group propaganda and information about dozens of police staff members at Harpon’s home, according to police sources.

It was unclear whether Harpon, who had full clearance working in the IT department of the police's intelligence unit, had this information for his job or for another motive.

Investigators are now urgently trying to determine whether the files have fallen into the wrong hands since they say Harpon had been in contact with members of the Salafist movement.

Earlier on Tuesday, Castaner posthumously bestowed France's highest award, the Legion of Honor, on the four victims of the attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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