PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that the killing of two police officials was “incontestably a terrorist act,” coming as his country and others are facing a high threat of the kind of extremist violence that hit an Florida night club.
A 25-year-old Frenchman with a past terrorist conviction is suspected in Monday’s knife attack in the Paris suburb of Magnanville, according to police officials. The motive for the attack is unclear. The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency cited an unnamed source as saying an IS fighter carried out the attack, but the extremist jihadist group has not officially claimed responsibility.
Hollande chaired an emergency security meeting Tuesday after the late-night attack and standoff, in which two police officials, a man and woman who lived together, were killed. The attacker, Larossi Abbala, was also killed. The couple’s 3-year-old child survived.
Abbala was from the western Paris suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie and was sentenced in 2013 to three years in prison, including six months suspended, for recruiting fighters for jihad in Pakistan, according to two police officials. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named discussing ongoing investigations.
A Facebook profile bearing the name Larossi Abballa — which vanished from the internet early Tuesday — showed a photo of smiling, bearded man. Two recent posts featured videos critical of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The last post publicly available was a mock-up of the European Championship logo highlighting the posters’ purported masonic and occult symbols.
“Some will say we see evil everywhere!” Abballa said in a message posted about 18 hours before the attack.
Hollande said France was facing a terror threat “of a very large scale.”
“France is not the only country concerned (by the terrorist threat), as we have seen, again, in the United States, in Orlando,” he said at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said more than 100 people seen as potential threats have been arrested in France this year, including in recent weeks.
France has been on particularly high alert as it hosts Europe’s top sporting event, the monthlong European Championship soccer tournament, and is still under a state of emergency after deadly Islamic State attacks in November.
Cazeneuve visited the police station where one of the victims, 42-year-old Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, worked. A knife-wielding attacker stabbed Salvaing Monday night outside his home in Magnanville, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Paris, then went into the house. Elite police commandos laid siege to the residence, eventually storming it after a roughly three-hour standoff.
France, like other countries in Europe, has seen a series of stabbings aimed at police officers or soldiers and carried out by Muslim radicals. IS has encouraged its supporters to stage such attacks.
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was lit up Monday night in the colors of a rainbow to honor victims of Saturday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed at least 49 people. The gunman declared his allegiance to IS in phone calls to police, but his motives remain unclear.
Ganley contributed from Les Mureaux, France. Raphael Satter, Lori Hinnant and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed