Second French church attacker formally identified: Prosecutors

Second French church attacker formally identified: Prosecutors

Second French church attacker formally identified: Prosecutors

People walk past the city hall of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on July 28, 2016 where floral tributes, two larges black clothes and the French national flag half mast were set outside after French priest Jacques Hamel was killed on July 26 in the church during a hostage-taking claimed by Islamic State group. AFP photo

French investigators have formally identified the second jihadist who attacked a church and killed a priest, a young man who was known to authorities after having tried to travel to Syria, a source in the prosecutor’s office said July 28, according to AFP.

They named him as Abdel Malik Petitjean, 19, who was killed by police in the attack along with Adel Kermiche, also 19, who had been awaiting trial on terror charges and had been fitted with an electronic tag despite calls from the prosecutor for him not to be released.

A security official confirmed to the Associated Press that he was the unidentified man pictured on a photo distributed to French police on July 22 with a warning that he could be planning an attack.

Four days later, Petitjean and Kermiche stormed into a church in the northern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during morning mass July 26 and slit the 86-year-old priest’s throat at the altar before being gunned down by police.

Another man was left seriously injured in a hostage drama, while three nuns and a worshipper escaped unharmed.

The two jihadists pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a video posted on ISIL’s news agency Amaq showed July 27.

A security official said Turkey spotted Petitjean at a Turkish airport going to Syria on June 10, and that on June 29 he was flagged to French authorities and immediately put on a special watch list.

“But he didn’t go to Syria,” said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and asked not to be identified by name, according to the Associated Press. “He turned around” and returned to France on June 11.

Although it’s not clear what caused Petitjean to turn around, in recent months ISIL propaganda has encouraged Western recruits in particular not to join extremists in the war zones in Syria or Iraq but to remain home and carry out attacks.

The prosecution source said Petitjean had no prior convictions and police did not have his fingerprints or DNA on file, which had slowed the identification of his body.

But he was on police files since June 29 for having tried to enter Syria from Turkey, the source said.
The government has said there are about 10,500 people with so-called ‘S files’ related to potential jihadi activities in France, according to Reuters. 

DNA samples from his mother enabled investigators to identify him.

The church attack was the third in two weeks in France and Germany in which jihadists have pledged allegiance to ISIL, increasing jitters in Europe over young, often unstable men being lured by jihadist propaganda and calls to carry out attacks in their home countries.