French investigators formally identify second church attacker

French Investigators

French Investigators

A day after the Islamic State (IS) group released a video purportedly showing the two jihadists who attacked a northern French church and killed a priest, investigators formally identified the second assailant on Thursday.

The French prosecutor’s office on Thursday identified the second assailant who attacked a church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray as Abdel Malik P.

Sources close to the investigation said he was on France’s “S” watchlist of terror suspects.

The first assailant was identified Tuesday, shortly after a Roman Catholic nun alerted authorities that two men had attacked the Saint Etienne Church during its morning Mass and had slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest.

A day after the Islamic State (IS) group released a video purportedly showing the two jihadists who attacked a northern French church and killed a priest, investigators formally identified the second assailant on Thursday.

The French prosecutor’s office on Thursday identified the second assailant who attacked a church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray as Abdel Malik P.

Sources close to the investigation said he was on France’s “S” watchlist of terror suspects.

The first assailant was identified Tuesday, shortly after a Roman Catholic nun alerted authorities that two men had attacked the Saint Etienne Church during its morning Mass and had slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest.

Adel Kermiche, 19, a resident of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a surburb of Rouen, was also on the “S” watchlist after attempting to go to Syria twice. He was charged in France after his second failed attempt and imprisoned, but then released on bail pending trial. Under the terms of his release the teen remained under house arrest and was fitted with an electronic surveillance bracelet that allowed him to leave his house on weekdays between 8am and 12:30pm. The attack occurred at 9:25am on Tuesday.

Kermiche was rapidly identified as one of the attackers by his monitoring bracelet.

However, sources close to the investigation told French media outlets that after being gunned down by police, the second attacker’s face was too disfigured to allow him to be identified.

The two jihadists allegedly pledged allegiance to the IS group in a video posted by the group’s media arm, Amaq, on Wednesday. French officials have not yet verified the authenticity of the video.

Abdel Malik P. had no prior convictions and police did not have his fingerprints or DNA on file, which slowed the identification of his body, a prosecution source told the AFP. DNA samples from his mother eventually enabled investigators to identify him.

He had been in police files since June 29 for having tried to enter Syria from Turkey, the source added.

The church attack was the latest in a series over the past two weeks in both France and Germany, increasing concerns in Europe that young, often unstable men are being lured by jihadist propaganda and responding to calls to carry out attacks in their home countries.

The IS group also claimed that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed 84 people when he ploughed a truck into a crowd in the French city of Nice on July 14, was one of their “soldiers”. However, French authorities have not established any direct link between Bouhlel and the jihadist group.