French Church Attacked: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was suspected as a radical before attack
The second culprit behind an ISIS-affiliated attack that killed a priest in a church was a teenager already known to security experts as a potential Islamist militant.
French judicial sources told journalists that 19-year-old Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean, was identified from his DNA.
Petitjean, who is from eastern France, and friend Adel Kermiche, also 19, targeted the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during morning Mass.
They cut a priest's throat and held three nuns and an elderly couple as hostages. One nun later escaped and switched an alarm. Both terrorists were later killed by law enforcement officers.
Security staff had opened a special file on Petitjean on June 29 on suspicions that he had been radicalized, a police source told Reuters. The government has said there are about 10,500 people with so-called "S files" related to potential jihadi activities in France. Kermiche was not only known to security forces but wore an electronic bracelet and was awaiting trial for alleged membership of a terrorist group having been released on bail.
France's intelligence services had received a tip-off from a foreign intelligence that an attack was being planned and issued out a photo to various security forces, RTL radio reported. Police had no name, only a photograph that appears to be of Petitjean, it added. Petitjean's mother Yamina told BFMTV that her son had never spoken about ISIS.
The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency released a video on Wednesday of two men it claimed were the church attackers pledging allegiance to the head of ISIS. However, there is no evidence that ISIS was directly involved in the attack. In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, those who knew Kermiche explained that he spoke of little else other than his desire to join the extremist group in Syria following the January 2015 attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.
"He said it wasn't possible to live peacefully in France. He spoke with words that did not belong to him. He was mesmerized, like in a sect," his mother said in an interview last year after her son was detained and returned to France after trying to make it to Syria. She said the family, who had flagged him to authorities, did not know where to turn.
"Luckily he was caught in time twice," she told the Tribunal de Geneve newspaper. "If he had made it to Syria, I would have had to forget him." Initially Kermiche was jailed, but a judge later ordered him released — over prosecutor objections — and placed him under limited house arrest with an electronic surveillance bracelet.