Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins gave an update on what the French anti-terror authorities have uncovered about the attacker who murdered a policeman and wounded two others at Champs-Elysees Thursday evening. Here are the key highlights:
- He name is Karim Cheurfi and was born on Dec.31, 1977 in Livry-Gargan, France; Cheurfi, 39, a French national lived with his mother in the eastern Paris suburb of Chelles.
- A document found in attacker’s pocket after he was shot showed he supported Islamic State.
- Francois Molins says Cheurfi was known to police and judiciary forces and had been convicted for previous gun attacks on law enforcement officers going back 16 years, including conviction for attempted murder on a state representative in 2001.
- Cheurfi served 10 years in prison after firing on two plainclothes officers in 2001 as they tried to apprehend him in a stolen car. While in detention, he shot and wounded a prison officer after seizing his gun
- “In Jan. 2017, anti-terror prosecutors received elements suggesting Karim Cheurfi sought to get weapons and would have said things that suggested he wanted to kill police officers” Molins says
- Given lack of proof of radicalization, case was handed to prosecutors in Meaux - where Cheurfi lived - who opened preliminary probe in Jan. over suspected plans to perpetrate a murder.
- Ceurfi was released on probation in 2015 from a further two-year jail term imposed for lesser offences, Cheurfi was arrested again in February after threatening to kill police officers - but released for lack of evidence.
- Cheurfi was placed in custody and interrogated as part of probe in Feb. and his house was searched revealing that he had ordered hunting knives on internet in 2016 but that wasn’t enough to charge or convict him so he was released.
- While investigators found no trace of radicalization at the time, investigation was handed to anti-terror investigators.
- Three people linked to Cheurfi are currently being interrogated.
In other words, yet another unstable and radicalized ISIS sympathizer managed to slip through the fingers of the French police, despite numerous warning signs, leading to another police death.
Meanwhile a manhunt for a potential second suspect, identified as Youssouf El Osri, continues. Belgian security officials had warned French counterparts before the attack that El Osri was a "very dangerous individual en route to France" aboard the Thalys high-speed train. The warning was circulated more widely among French security services in the hour following the Champs Elysees attack. Brandet later told BFM TV that a man with that name had turned himself in at a police station in Antwerp.
According to Reuters, Islamic State, which has hundreds of French-speaking fighters, claimed responsibility for the Champs Elysees shooting soon afterwards, in a statement identifying the attacker as "Abu Yousif al-Belgiki (the Belgian)". El Osri's connection with either the downed assailant or the man named by Islamic State remained unclear on Friday.
"We don't understand why Islamic State has identified the wrong person," said a police source. "What does seem clear is that Islamic State was planning something."
Coming just days after police said they had foiled another planned Islamist attack, arresting two men in the southern city of Marseille, the Champs Elysees shooting dominated the final day of election campaigning.