Paris meat cleaver attacker's identity in doubt

Paris (AFP) –


There was confusion Monday over the identity of the man who injured two people in a meat cleaver attack in Paris last week which was condemned by the government as an act of "Islamist terrorism".

Investigators said the assailant had identified himself as Hassan A., an 18-year-old born in Pakistan.

But in a video in which he said he was targeting the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo -- the scene of a massacre by Islamist gunmen in January 2015 -- the man said his name was Zaheer Hassan Mehmood.

Investigators found a photo of an identity document on the attacker's cellphone of a man by the same name, aged 25, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

The attacker seriously injured two employees of a TV production agency, whose offices are in the same block that used to house Charlie Hebdo, which has since moved to a secret location.

The two victims were in a stable condition, officials said.

The attacker told investigators he thought he was targeting staff of Charlie Hebdo, which he did not know had moved.

He said he was avenging the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

The authorities said the claimed identity of Hassan A. belongs to a young man born in the Pakistani town of Mandi Bahauddin.

Hassan A. entered France three years ago, was not known to police and not known to have every displayed signs of supporting radical Islam.

- 'I will condemn' -

In a two-minute video recorded under the name of Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, the attacker announced that: "Today, Friday September 25, I will condemn" Charlie Hebdo.

He did not claim to have acted on behalf of any organisation.

The attacker remained in custody Monday, along with five others investigators said were being held to learn more about the suspect's "environment".

Police believe he acted alone.

The five include three former flatmates of the attacker, his younger brother, and an acquaintance.

Five more people have been released from custody, including a man identified as Youssef, 22, who claimed he was arrested while trying to stop the attack.

"I wanted to be a hero, I ended up behind bars," he told TF1 Sunday.

The attack came three weeks into a trial of suspected accomplices of the authors of the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a policewoman, and a Jewish supermarket.

Seventeen people were killed in the three-day spree that heralded a wave of Islamist violence in France that has so far claimed 258 lives.

"Of course we, Charlie Hebdo, are in the front line again," Richard Malka, a lawyer for the satirical weekly, said about the latest attack.

"But it's bigger than us," he said on the margins of the trial. "This is about our way of life. We're not going to allow people with machetes to limit our rights," he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile told Monday's cabinet meeting that "the terrorist threat still persists in our country", said government spokesman Gabriel Attal.

The president said it was time to "re-examine, if necessary, a certain number of measures taken" in the light of the latest attack.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin warned that the French and their leaders may have forgotten about the threat of "Islamist terrorism" and that it was his job to "remind them of reality".