A suspected Islamist extremist who stabbed two young women to death outside Marseille’s main railway station on Sunday afternoon used several false identities and was known to French police as a petty criminal, officials said yesterday.
The attacker, whose identity has not been released by French authorities, was said by witnesses to have shouted “Allahu akbar” as he slashed one of his victims across the throat with a knife before stabbing the other in the stomach.
He was shot dead by French troops at the scene, who discovered he was carrying two butcher’s knives.
Speaking with the Reuters news agency after the attack, police union official Stephane Battaglia said the death toll could have been much higher had French soldiers not been stationed nearby.
The two victims were named as cousins Mauranne Harel and Laura Paumier, who were aged 20 and 21 respectively.
The knifeman, who was described as being of North African appearance, was arrested on Friday in Lyon on suspicion of shoplifting, and is said to have been known to police for drug dealing and theft.
Daesh was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, using its Amaq propaganda unit to announce that a “soldier of the caliphate” had carried out the stabbings in response to a call from the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for lone wolf strikes against countries attacking Daesh in Iraqi and Syria.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said none of the killer’s seven identities were on French anti-terrorist watch lists.
While Daesh used to typically claim responsibility for attacks after establishing that an assailant had at least been inspired by its ideology, the jihadi group seems to have been claiming suspected terrorist incidents indiscriminately since being placed under increasing pressure in its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
In a move that attracted much scepticism from security experts, the group yesterday claimed responsibility for the worst US shooting in recent history.
The group’s news agency announced that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock has converted to Islam a few months before his attack on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday, referring to him using the nom de guerre “Abu Abd Abdulbar al-Ameriki”.
The FBI was quick to refute the group’s claims, as were a number of security sources, who pointed out that Paddock did not fit the profile of the typical Daesh recruit, and committed an “un-Islamic” act by committing suicide without blowing himself up in an attempt to take others with him.
Commenting on Daesh’s rush to point out that Paddock had converted to Islam, Charlie Winter, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London, was quoted by TIME as saying: “It’s almost defensive, anticipating that people will pick the claim to pieces when presumably, if it was true, this would come to light naturally. It leaves me thinking this is a particularly fishy communication.”