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French police find body in missing teenager case

French police probing the disappearance of an 18-year-old girl found a body on Thursday after the main suspect confessed to killing her in a lovers’ quarrel, a prosecutor said.

The 39-year-old man led police to a site in the woods near the southern town of La Grand-Combe where the girl lived, after admitting to the crime on Wednesday evening, prosecutor Cecile Gensac said.

He said he had “killed the young woman during a fight linked to their romantic relationship”, she said.

Investigators found the “body of a girl that corresponds in all aspects” with the description of the missing person, even though a forensic examination still needed to confirm her identity, she added.

A source close to the investigation said the body bore traces of a “violent death”.

Sihem, whose surname has been withheld, disappeared after leaving her home in La Grand-Combe late at night on January 25, “probably to meet someone she knew”, the investigating magistrate had said earlier.

Police deployed helicopters and sniffer dogs to try to find her without success.

On Tuesday, police detained both the suspect, a man convicted for previous offences including theft with a weapon, and an ex-girlfriend of his, herself a cousin of the missing girl.

The cousin has been released.

The suspect “decided to confront his heavy responsibility in Sihem’s disappearance and to end the unbearable suspense for her relatives by guiding the investigators,” his lawyer Jean-Marc Darrigade said.

“He knows that his crime is unforgivable, but his silence would only have made it worse.”

Investigators had initially suspected a kidnapping.

Concern has grown in France over the number of women killed every year.

Up to 122 women were killed by a partner or ex-partner in France in 2021, compared to 102 the previous year, the interior ministry has said.

The country recorded some 146 femicides in 2019.