PARIS — A radical Muslim has been identified as the killer of police in Paris this week. Now officers wander how they missed warning signs about the employee who slashed four colleagues to death at its headquarters on Thursday. As a result, the murders are prompting demands for a leadership shake-up.
At a news conference on Saturday, France’s antiterrorism prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, said the killer, a 45-year-old computer technician who worked in police intelligence, had tried to justify to a colleague the killings in January 2015 at the magazine Charlie Hebdo and had done the same for other radical Islamist killings, reported The New York Times.
The disturbing statements he made after a dozen people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris were reported to higher-ranking officers, a police union official said Saturday. Nevertheless, nothing was done.
The fact that this and other potential red flags — including a video the killer posted on Facebook that imitated throat-cutting — were missed (or ignored) by the police administration that surrounded him, at the heart of an organization dedicated to fighting terrorism, has stunned rank and file officers of the national police.
Moreover, the murders have set off calls for the interior minister’s resignation.
The prosecutor identified the murder suspect simply as “Mickaël H.” However, the French news media said he was Mickaël Harpon, born in the French West Indies department of Martinique, according to The Times. He was shot and killed during the knifing carnage.
The man was a longtime convert to Islam, not a recent one as officials had said in the aftermath of the killings. Furthermore, the murder suspect was a diligent attendee of his local mosque, going to morning and evening prayers. A radical imam who was nearly expelled from France officiated there, a police union official said Friday.
The radical Muslim also had contacts with “several individuals suspected of being part of the Salafist movement,” Mr. Ricard said, referring to an ultraconservative movement within Sunni Islam.
The prosecutor also pointed to dozens of religious-themed text messages the killer exchanged with his wife shortly before the killings, suggesting these showed he adhered to a “radical vision of Islam.”
In addition, the killer had stopped having “certain kinds of contacts with women,” the prosecutor said, without specifying.
The information now surfacing is creating an uproar among the French police, several union officials said Saturday.
“There are a lot of questions, and there is a lot of anger,” said Yves Lefebvre, a union official. “The police are asking, ‘How on earth could this have happened?’”
“What could easily have happened from the outside is now coming from the inside,” he said, blaming in part the extended Yellow Vest protests for diverting police resources and attention from terrorist threats. “There are flaws in the system.”
For the moment, the authorities are not giving answers to the deeper questions raised by Thursday’s murderous spree. Yet on Saturday, the political opposition leaped on the lapses, unleashing a round of fierce attacks on President Emmanuel Macron’s frequently under-fire interior minister, Christophe Castaner.
“What French citizen could think that this ministry is well run?” Eric Ciotti, a member of Parliament, asked Saturday on French television. “This is not reassuring, in the face of what is an extreme menace to our country.”