France beheading: Security services knew of suspect's Islamist links but stopped surveillance

An expert has warned of 'sleeper terrorists' who disappear from radar

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The Independent Online

The man who decapitated his manager before mounting his head on a fence and trying to blow a gas factory in France had been monitored by the security agencies, it has emerged.

Yassin Salhi, 35, placed Islamist flags on either side of the head and was reportedly found by firefighters trying to set off more explosions at Air Products in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier.

Authorities admitted he had been monitored for links to radical Islam from 2006-2008 but was not considered enough of a risk to continue the surveillance.

“He continued to attract the attention of intelligence services from time to time from 2011 to 2014 for his links to the Salafist movement in the Lyon region,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.

A spokesperson for Mr Molins’ office said investigators had not confirmed a motive for Salhi’s attack or any foreign connections.

The attack began about 9.30am, when Salhi drove a van to the factory gate by staff who recognised him from previous deliveries.

CCTV footage recorded him putting the victim's head on the fence and arranging the flags, getting back into the van and driving into gas cylinders, causing an explosion.

He then reportedly went into the factory and attempted to cause more explosions before being found by firefighters shouting “Akbar!” (God is great).

They managed to surround Salhi and keep him there until police arrived.

 

Salhi has been married for 10 years and has three children with his wife, who was among three people detained by police yesterday.

She and his sister remain in custody, while a fourth suspect arrested yesterday was released without charge.

The suspected killer was said to be refusing to speak to investigators last night and remains in custody.

Under French anti-terrorism laws, Salhi can be held up to four days before either being released or handed preliminary charges and locked up.

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Police investigators carry banners with illegible Arabic writing on them

He is the latest Frenchman to have been on authorities' radar before staging attacks in recent years.

Others include Mohamed Merah, who murdered Jewish children and French soldiers in 2012, Mehdi Nemmouche, the chief suspect in a 2014 attack on Brussels Jewish Museum and two of the gunmen in January’s Paris attacks.

Georges Fenech, a member of the French parliamentary group that governs the surveillance of terrorist networks, said: “We are dealing with 'sleeper' terrorists who are able to disappear from the surveillance radar for years and then reappear.

“It's really important to reflect and act to make sure that this surveillance lasts as long as possible. If not, we can have perpetrators of attacks who have been located, but who disappear off all surveillance.”

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Several people were detained from Salhi's home yesterday

The attack in France came on the same day that a gunman massacred at least 39 people, mostly British tourists, at a resort in Tunisia and a suicide bomber killed more than two dozen worshippers at a Shia mosque in Kuwait.

Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks, which followed a call by its leaders to target “infidels” during the Muslim holy month of Ramdadan.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the factory attack in France, which echoed Isis practices of beheading enemies and displaying their severed heads.

The victim has not been named but officials said he was Salhi’s employer at a delivery company based in Lyon.

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French security and emergency services gather at the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon

President Francois Hollande raised the security alert for the south-eastern region of France and returned from EU talks in Belgium early yesterday.

“There is emotion (after the Paris attacks) but emotion cannot be the only response,” he said.

“There must also be action, prevention, dissuasion. It is vital to further our values, to never to give in and never, whatever the circumstances create unnecessary division or intolerable suspicion.

“We will ensure that the people of France are protected and eradicate all the groups or individuals responsible for these acts.”

Air Products, a multi-national company headquartered in America, makes gases used by a wide range of industries and has more than 20,000 employees in 50 countries.

A French security official told the Associated Press that Salhi appeared to have miscalculated how explosive the chemicals he smashed into would be and Mr Hollande said he believed his goal was to blow up the factory.

Additional reporting by AP

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