A 33-year-old man suspected of committing at least three random killings in the south Paris suburbs was placed under formal investigation for murder last night.
The man, described by his lawyer as "fragile" and "chaotic", was arrested on Saturday. The local prosecutor, Marie-Suzanne Le Quéau, said the man, who had previous firearms and violence convictions in 2004, had denied all involvement.
Four shootings in five months by a gunman on a motorcycle, apparently using a single semi-automatic weapon, had caused deep anxiety in the Essonne area of southern Paris. Although authorities insisted there was no apparent political or terrorist motive, the killings drew comparison with the murder of seven people in eight days last month by the Toulouse "scooter killer", Mohamed Merah.
The Parisian man placed under formal investigation yesterday was arrested after his neighbours said that he had been seen riding a Suzuki motorcycle similar to one used during at least three of the murders.
Ms Le Quéau said that investigators had found a motorcycle and helmet which matched the description of those used by the killer. They had also found a bullet at the suspect's home which matched those used during three of the murders.
Mystery, and some confusion, has surrounded the investigation. Another suspect had been arrested and confessed after the first killing of a 35-year-old woman in November. He retracted his confession but remains in prison, where he has been on hunger strike. Since his arrest, three other murders have been committed, apparently using the same gun.
Investigators said that the first suspect might have ordered these killings to throw them off the scent. They were also looking at the possibility that the two killers had hired the same gun.
Ms Le Quéau said yesterday, however, that there was now some doubt whether the same gun had been used for the first killing.
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