Three dead in France in jihadist shooting spree
At least three people were killed Friday in a shooting spree and hostage siege in southwest France by a man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The gunman — a 26-year-old drug dealer monitored as a possible Islamic extremist — carried out three separate shootings in the medieval town of Carcassonne and nearby Trebes where he ended his rampage by taking hostages at a supermarket.
“We had monitored him and did not think he had been radicalised. He was already under surveillance when he suddenly decided to act,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters after flying to scene.
Named as Redouane Lakdim and said by security sources to have Moroccan nationality, the gunman first hijacked a car in Carcassonne, killing a passenger and injuring the driver, before shooting and injuring a policeman who was out jogging.
After driving around 15 minutes to a Super U supermarket in the sleepy town of Trebes, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), a witness reported.
He killed another two people and took hostages for more than three hours, armed with a knife and a gun, according to survivors. Another witness said he had grenades.
During the stand-off with police, he asked for unidentified prisoners to be released and was finally shot by anti-terror officers when they raided the premises.
“People were in complete peace here,” Collomb said in Trebes, a picturesque town of 5,000 people located along the famed Canal du Midi.
“No one could have imagined that there could be an attack.”
Collomb also hailed the “act of heroism” of a local policeman who agreed to exchange himself for Lakdim’s last hostage, a woman, in the final stages of the drama.
The officer was injured in the assault by France’s elite anti-terror police who have been called into action on multiple occasions over the last few years during a series of jihadist atrocities.
The Islamic State group claimed the attack was in response to its call to target its Western enemies — as is customary when the assailant has pledged allegiance to the jihadists.
A total of three people were killed and three people were injured by the gunman. An anti-terror policeman was also injured during the raid to end the siege.
Friday’s violence took place in a part of France still scarred by a killing spree in 2012 in the city of Toulouse and nearby Montauban where another Islamist, Mohamed Merah, shot dead seven people including three Jewish schoolchildren.
That assault marked the first of several big Islamist attacks in France, including the January 2015 assault on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.
France also suffered major attacks in Paris in November 2015 when IS jihadists killed 130 people in bombings and shootings at bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert venue and the national stadium.
In July 2016, in another attack claimed by IS, a man drove a truck through revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the Riviera resort of Nice, killing 84 people.
Christian Guibert, a survivor of Friday’s attack, said he saw “a man on the ground and then another very animated person who had a gun in one hand and a knife in the other and who was shouting ‘Allah Akbar'”.
Guibert told BFM television he hid his wife and sister-in-law in a refrigerated meat room in the supermarket and then went to alert the police.
“At that moment, he saw me and ran after me,” said Guibert, a retired policeman. “I started running and lost him.”
Three helicopters could be seen circling over Trebes throughout the day, while heavily armed police closed down roads surrounding the supermarket.
The identity of the attacker, if it is confirmed he is a suspected Islamist from Morocco, could reignite France’s immigration debate.
In October, a Tunisian man with a history of drug problems and petty crime stabbed to death two women on the steps of Marseille’s railway station in southern France while shouting “Allahu Akbar”.
The killer, Ahmed Hanachi, did not have papers to be in France and had been arrested for shoplifting just days before but had walked free.
“From Morocco, already imprisoned, a known Islamist already. But still in our country. How far will our laxism go?” the vice-president of France’s far-right National Front, Nicolas Bay, wrote on Twitter after Friday’s attack.
A state of emergency put in place just after the 2015 Paris attacks was lifted in October last year when the government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron passed a new law boosting the powers of security forces.
Soldiers continue to patrol major tourist sites around France and transport hubs under an anti-terror mission.
“We are in a small and calm town, but sadly the threat is everywhere,” Collomb said.
Macron paid tribute to the quick reactions of the emergency services and said he would be returning to Paris from Brussels at the end of an EU summit to coordinate the national response.
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