France launches terror probe after two killed in stabbing spree

Police at the scene of the attack in Romans-sur-Isere, southern France. (AP)
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Updated 04 April 2020

France launches terror probe after two killed in stabbing spree

  • Sudanese refugee went on a rampage in a string of shops in Romans-sur-Isere
  • President Emmanuel Macron called the attack 'an odious act'

ROMANS-SUR-ISERE, FRANCE: A Sudanese refugee went on a knife rampage in a town in south-eastern France on Saturday, killing two people in what is being treated as a terrorist attack.
The attack in broad daylight, which President Emmanuel Macron called "an odious act", took place with the country on lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Counter-terrorism prosecutors have launched an investigation into "murder linked to a terrorist enterprise" after the rampage in a string of shops in Romans-sur-Isere, a riverside town with a population of about 35,000.
The assailant, identified only as Abdallah A.-O., a refugee in his 30s from Sudan who lives in the town, was arrested without a fight by police.
"He was found on his knees on the pavement praying in Arabic," the prosecutor's office said.
According to witnesses cited by local radio station France Bleu Drome Ardeche, he shouted "Allah Akbar!"(God is Greatest) as he stabbed his victims.
"Anyone who had the misfortune to find themselves in his way were attacked," town mayor Marie-Helene Thoraval told AFP.
David Olivier Reverdy, from the National Police Alliance union, said the assailant had called on police to kill him when they came to arrest him.
The suspect first went into a tobacco shop where he attacked the owner and his wife, Thoraval said.
He then went into a butcher's shop where he seized another knife before heading to the town centre and attacking people in the street outside a bakery.
"He took a knife, jumped over the counter, and stabbed a customer, then ran away," the butcher's shop owner Ludovic Breyton told AFP.
"My wife tried to help the victim but in vain."
Interior Minister Cristophe Castaner, who visited the scene, said two people were killed and five others injured.
"This morning, a man embarked on a terrorist journey," he said.
The initial investigation has "brought to light a determined, murderous course likely to seriously disturb public order through intimidation or terror", according to the national anti-terrorist prosecutor's office (PNAT).
It said that during a search of the suspect's home, "handwritten documents with religious connotations were found in which the author complains in particular that he lives in a country of non-believers".
The suspect, who obtained refugee status in 2017, was not known to police or intelligence services in France or Europe, PNAT said.
Macron denounced the attack in a statement on Twitter.
"All the light will be shed on this odious act which casts a shadow over our country which has already been hit hard in recent weeks," he said.
France is in its third week of a national lockdown over COVID-19, with all but essential businesses ordered to shut and people told to stay at home.
The country has been on terror alert since a wave of deadly jihadist bombings and shootings in Paris in 2015.
In all, 258 people have been killed in France in what have been deemed terrorist attacks.


America’s streets calmest in days; police credit curfews

Updated 3 min 53 sec ago

America’s streets calmest in days; police credit curfews

MINNEAPOLIS: Protesters marched on Wednesday in peaceful pleas to end police brutality, after a calmer night in cities across America void of the violence of recent days, as demonstrators heightened calls for justice in the killing of George Floyd.
Curfews and efforts by protesters to contain earlier flare-ups of lawlessness were credited with preventing more widespread damage to businesses in New York and other cities overnight.
“Last night we took a step forward in moving out of this difficult period we’ve had the last few days and moving to a better time,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
New York police said they arrested about 280 people on protest-related charges Tuesday night, compared with 700 a day earlier. Nationwide, the number arrested rose to more than 9,000 since vandalism, arson and shootings erupted around the US in reaction to Floyd’s death May 25 in Minneapolis.
At least 12 deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.
The officer who pressed a knee to Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for air has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers who were at the scene have been fired but not charged.
Floyd’s family, in a visit Wednesday to a makeshift shrine at the Minneapolis street corner where he died, called for the other officers to be arrested, a plea echoed by their attorney, Ben Crump.
“We are demanding justice,” Crump said.
Some tense incidents continued Tuesday night, but were far less prevalent than in preceding days. Police and National Guard troops used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, nonlethal rounds and other means of dispersing crowds near a police precinct in Seattle, near Centennial Park in Atlanta and at demonstrations in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida.
In Washington, where authorities ordered people off streets before sundown, thousands of demonstrators massed a block from the White House , following a crackdown a day earlier when officers drove peaceful protesters away from Lafayette Park to clear the way for President Donald Trump to do a photo op with a Bible at a church. A black chain-link fence was put up to block access to the park.
“Last night pushed me way over the edge,” said Jessica DeMaio, 40, of Washington, who attended a Floyd protest for the first time. “Being here is better than being at home feeling helpless.”
Pastors at the church prayed with demonstrators and handed out water bottles. The crowd remained in place after the city’s 7 p.m. curfew passed, defying warnings that the response from law enforcement could be even more forceful. But the people were peaceful, even polite.
At one point, the crowd booed when a protester climbed a light post and took down a street sign. A chant went up: “Peaceful protest!”
Pope Francis called for national reconciliation and peace, saying he has ‘’witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest’’ in the US
“My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,’’ he said.
Trump has pushed the nation’s governors to take a hard line against the violence, tweeting on Tuesday that “lowlifes and losers” were taking over New York’s streets. He again tweeted Wednesday:
Thousands of people remained out in New York City on Tuesday night, undeterred by an 8 p.m. curfew, though most streets were clear by early Wednesday. Battered storefronts from the earlier rounds of violence could be seen in midtown Manhattan.
The New York Police Department credited the curfew, which was three hours earlier than the day before, with helping officers take control of the streets.
“The earlier curfew really helped our cops take out of the neighborhoods people that didn’t belong there,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan said on NBC’s “Today.”
Protesters also marched in Los Angeles; Miami; St. Paul, Minnesota; Columbia, South Carolina; and Houston, where the police chief talked to peaceful demonstrators, vowing reforms.
“God as my witness, change is coming,” Art Acevedo said. “And we’re going to do it the right way.”
More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the violence.
In Philadelphia, a statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo was removed by the city early Wednesday after repeatedly being targeted by vandals. Rizzo presided over a police force widely accused of racism and brutality in the 1970s.
Floyd died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee against the handcuffed black man’s neck as he cried that he couldn’t breathe. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with murder. Protesters have demanded that the three other officers on the scene be charged, too.
The mother of Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, said she wants the world to know that her little girl lost a good father.
“I want everybody to know that this is what those officers took,” Roxie Washington said during a Minneapolis news conference, her daughter at her side. “I want justice for him because he was good. No matter what anybody thinks, he was good.”
Minnesota has opened a civil rights investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department has a pattern of discrimination against minorities.
Some protesters framed the burgeoning movement as a necessity after a long list of killings by police.
“It feels like it’s just been an endless cascade of hashtags of black people dying, and it feels like nothing’s really being done by our political leaders to actually enact real change,” said Christine Ohenzuwa, 19, who attended a peaceful protest at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul.
“There’s always going to be a breaking point. I think right now, we’re seeing the breaking point around the country.”