PARIS (Reuters) – Police on Sunday scoured the background of a Chechnya-born Frenchman who killed a man in a knife attack in Paris, questioning the parents and a friend of the 21-year old, who had been flagged previously as a potential security risk.
Late on Saturday, the assailant shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) as he began his stabbing rampage. He fatally knifed a 29-year-old man and wounded four others, among them a Chinese and a Luxembourg citizen, before police shot him dead.
A judicial source named the attacker as Khamzat A, without giving his full name, which BFM TV and other French media said was Azimov.
The attack took place in the bustling Opera district, known for its many restaurants, cafes and the Palais Garnier opera.
It was the latest in a succession of attacks in France since January 2015 in which more than 240 people have died.
The attacker had since 2016 been on a counter-terrorism watchlist of suspected radicals who may be a threat to national security, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
The stabbing exposed once again the difficulty European intelligence services face keeping track of suspected extremists and countering the threat posed by homegrown militants and foreign jihadists.
France has participated in a U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and it also intervened in Mali to push back an Islamist rebellion in the West African state.
Its military interventions overseas have exposed it to attack by Islamist militants at home.
The assailant became French when his mother obtained citizenship in 2010, Griveaux said in a joint interview with broadcasters LCI and RTL and newspaper Le Figaro.
He rejected criticism from opponents of President Emmanuel Macron that the government was not doing enough to stem such attacks, saying: “Zero risk does not exist.”
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but provided no proof. Griveaux said the claim had not yet been fully authenticated.
Judicial sources said the assailant’s parents as well as a friend of his were being held for questioning. The friend, arrested in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, was born in 1997, a source said.
BFM TV said the attacker had long lived in Strasbourg before moving to Paris last year.
“WE HID UNDER THE TABLE”
Macron said France would “not yield an inch to the enemies of freedom,” and praised police for “neutralizing the terrorist”.
Police union representative Rocco Contento told Reuters the attacker had rushed at police on Saturday evening, shouting “I will kill you, I will kill you!” after stabbing bystanders.
He was then shot by the officers.
“It was scary,” said Emma Klibbe, a 32-year old Australian who was waiting to get into a nearby restaurant and saw a man walk by who was injured in the attack.
“We heard someone shout and then a woman screamed ‘run inside!’ We ran inside and hid under the table,” said Klibbe, who teaches English in Paris.
The four people wounded were out of danger, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters.
A picture seen by Reuters showed a bare-chested and bearded young man dressed in black sweatpants lying on the ground and being helped by emergency services. A source said he was the attacker.
“We heard gun fire, two gun shots,” said waitress Sarah Gousse. “The street was just filled with police and firemen and they tried to revive him (the attacker).”
In October, in an incident similar to Saturday’s, a man stabbed two young women to death in the port city of Marseille before he was shot dead by soldiers.
The deadliest of the attacks that have hit France over the past three years occurred in Paris in November 2015, when 130 people were killed.
Additonal reporting by Sophie Louet, Lucien Libert, John Irish, Michael Martina, Foo Yun Chee; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Richard Lough and Angus MacSwan