Algerian relative, ex-colleague of Notre Dame attacker astounded

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A relative and former colleague of the Algerian suspected of attacking a policeman outside the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris said Wednesday they struggled to believe he was a jihadist.

The attacker was shot and wounded by police on Tuesday after he lunged at an officer with a hammer in a square full of tourists in front of the landmark cathedral.

Documents found on the attacker identified him as Farid I., a 40-year-old Algerian student, and a source close to the investigation said police found a video in his flat in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Speaking to AFP in his North African homeland on Wednesday, the suspect's nephew Sofiane I. said it was hard to believe his relative had carried out the attack.

"At first we thought there must have been a mistake on the person's identity. The man they're talking about doesn't correspond to the person we know," he said on the phone from Bejaia, about 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Algiers.

"Farid was a progressive. Nothing to do with any extremist movement. He just prayed like everyone else," the lawyer and human rights activist said.

Farid was the youngest in a family of seven brothers and four sisters originally from Akbou, some 70 kilometres southwest of Bejaia, said Sofiane.

"His parents are in shock and can't believe what's happening -- that their son is the person being talked about," he said.

"Last year when he came on holiday, we discussed the situation in the Middle East. He said he didn't believe in this group (IS) and even described (IS chief Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi as an idiot," he said.

Kamel Medjoub, bureau chief in Bejaia for the French-language daily El Watan, was just as astounded.

"I can't believe Farid might be a (member) of Daesh or that he might have any affiliation to such a group. It's unthinkable," Medjoub told AFP by phone.

"Perhaps he lost the plot and attacked a policeman, but him pledging allegiance to Daesh is unthinkable," said Medjoub, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The journalist said he worked with Farid for a year from April 2013 at El Watan, a newspaper known for its opposition to Islamists, before he headed to France to finish his studies.

During that time, Farid showed "no sign of any religious committment or any radicalisation", Medjoub said, adding he did not understand any subsequent "U-turn".

During the assault, the attacker shouted "this is for Syria", France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said.

The man was on Wednesday placed in custody in hospital, where he is being treated for a gunshot wound to the chest.

© 2017 AFP

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