Two women killed in suspected terrorist attack in Marseilles

Attacker who was known to police shot dead at main train station in French city

French police and soldier secure a street near the Saint-Charles train station  in Marseilles. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

French police and soldier secure a street near the Saint-Charles train station in Marseilles. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

 

A man shouting “Allahu Akbar” killed two young women with a butcher’s knife outside the Gare Saint-Charles in Marseilles early Sunday afternoon.

Neither the victims nor the assailant have been officially identified.

The killer, who was about 30 years old, carried no identity papers. According to France 2 public television, he was known to police in France and several North African countries under seven different identities. He had committed about a dozen criminal offences, including theft and drug dealing, in Marseilles, Toulon and Lyons. He was not on a terrorist watchlist.

L’Est Républicain newspaper and the Unsa-Police union said the victims were women aged 17 and 20. France Info radio said the first was knifed in the neck and back, the second in the chest and abdomen.

Video surveillance showed the killer sitting on a bench outside the station. After attacking the first woman, he started to run away. He then returned and attacked his second victim. He was carrying two knives.

Soldiers from the Opération Sentinelle, established after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, ran toward the killer. He was poised to stab a soldier, who shot him in the stomach. The killer fell to the ground and was hand-cuffed before he died.

In August, a man tried to run over Sentinelle soldiers as they left their barracks in a Paris suburb. Critics said the 10,000-strong force provides easy targets for terrorists. The soldiers’ rapid response on Sunday strengthens the argument for continuing their deployment.

Speaking at the scene of the crime, interior minister Gérard Collomb left some doubt about the nature of the attack, saying: “This act could be of a terrorist nature, but at the moment we are not able to confirm it.”

Jean-Claude Gaudin, the mayor of Marseilles, said he thought it was a terrorist attack. The anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation for “murder in relation to a terrorist undertaking” and “attempted murder of a person in public authority”.

‘Isolated guy’

The distinction between jihadists and mentally deranged individuals is often tenuous. An eyewitness called Dominique sobbed as she told France Info radio that she was 10m from the murder. “I think he was an isolated guy,” she said. “He was off on his own and he looked bizarre. People were watching him. He had a knife up his sleeve and he pounded a girl with the knife. Another girl was lying on the ground, covered with blood. I heard him shout “Allahu Akbar.”

Before this incident, a total of 238 people had been killed in jihadist attacks in France since 2015.

The state of emergency, which started on the night of the Paris attacks of November 13th, 2015, is due to be lifted on November 1st. Several conservative politicians said the Marseilles attack proved it should be extended.

President Emmanuel Macron’s administration is scheduled to pass France’s 14th anti-terrorist law on Tuesday. It will perpetuate some provisions of the state of emergency.