French PM backs security forces after new terror attack

15th June 2016, Comments 0 comments

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the security forces Wednesday after the first deadly jihadist attack on the nation's soil since the Paris massacres last November.

President Francois Hollande joined a minute's silence at the interior ministry for the two victims of Monday's assault in which a knife-wielding convicted extremist who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group killed a police officer and his partner at their home.

The minute's silence was also observed at police stations nationwide, and flags at the interior ministry were to remain at half-mast for three days.

Hollande will preside over a memorial ceremony at the Versailles police headquarters on Friday, according to his office.

Valls rejected criticism that the authorities could have thwarted the assault.

"I will not let anyone say there was any negligence or lack of judgement" by the security forces, he told France Inter radio.

He noted that a lone wolf attack was hard to prevent and repeated a warning that terrorism was an inevitable threat.

"We will experience further attacks in the future because we are facing a terrorist organisation which is on the retreat in Syria and Iraq and which is projecting itself in our countries in various forms... in order to sow fear and division," Valls said.

- 'More innocents will die' -

"More innocent people will lose their lives. It's very hard to say this... but unfortunately it is the truth," he said.

France, which is hosting the Euro 2016 football championships, is on maximum alert following the November 13 attacks in Paris by an IS cell that claimed 130 lives.

In Monday's assault, 25-year-old Larossi Abballa, previously convicted for jihadism, killed a police officer and his partner before streaming his claim for the murders live on Facebook.

He stabbed 42-year-old police commander Jean-Baptiste Salvaing outside his home in the Paris suburb of Magnanville.

Entering their home, he took Salvaing's 36-year-old partner Jessica Schneider and the couple's three-year-old son hostage, before slitting her throat.

He was later killed in a police raid on the house, where officers found the little boy traumatised but unhurt.

Just before the raid, Abballa streamed a live video on Facebook of himself inside the house with the toddler, urging "other surprises" and pledging to "turn the Euro into a graveyard".

Speaking before the minute of silence, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Salvaing was murdered "because he was a police officer. And Jessica Schneider is dead... because she was his partner and a civil servant of the police".

Adding to the worry, Belgian daily La Derniere Heure on Wednesday warned of an "imminent" threat of more bloodshed by jihadists from Syria heading for France and Belgium.

"Fighters travelling without passports left Syria about a week and a half ago in order to reach Europe by boat via Turkey and Greece," it said, quoting a memo sent to Belgian police and security services.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said police had found a hit list at the scene of Monday's assault naming police, rappers and journalists to be targeted.

Abballa, from the nearby suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie, told police negotiators before his death that he had sworn loyalty to IS three weeks earlier.

Facebook later removed Abballa's video.

"Terrorists and acts of terrorism have no place on Facebook. Whenever terrorist content is reported to us, we remove it as quickly as possible," it said.

Three associates of Abballa have been arrested over the attack, two of whom were convicted alongside him in 2013 over ties to a network recruiting jihadists for Pakistan. At the time, Abballa was sentenced to three years in prison.

- 'Retention centres' -

Rightwing critics called Tuesday for "retention centres" for radical Islamists akin to those where individuals with dangerous mental health problems can be detained.

But Valls ruled out the idea as "dangerous".

Abballa had been under phone surveillance since February, but nothing indicated he was planning an attack.

French Muslim leader Dalil Boubakeur on Wednesday condemned the attack and said jihadists like Abballa should not be allowed to move around "freely".

"Individuals like this are moving around freely in France. This should not last," the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris said.

The latest killings came barely 36 hours after the massacre at an Orlando gay club by an IS-inspired gunman.

Following the bloodshed, Hollande spoke by phone with US President Barack Obama to discuss the terror threat.

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© 2016 AFP

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