French church killer Adel Kermiche: ‘A ticking time bomb’

Family of teenager who killed priest in France ‘tried to stop him joining Isis’

The teenage Islamic State follower who cut the throat of a Catholic priest celebrating Mass in northern France was released from prison despite being determined to join jihadis in Syria.

As Adel Kermiche’s family battled to save him from joining the terror group, friends told how the 19-year-old had become increasingly radicalised and had threatened to attack a church.

School mates described Kermiche as “easily influenced” and a “buffoon” who never took to learning.

One teenager who knew him told RTL radio that when he heard about the church attack he knew Kermiche was involved. He said: “I wasn’t surprised. He talked about it all the time. He talked about Islam, the things like this he was going to do. He talked about the Koran and Mecca and he told me ‘I’m going to attack a church’. He said this two months ago on leaving the mosque. On my mother’s life I didn’t believe him.”


On Tuesday morning, Kermiche carried out that threat , entering the church at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy with another attacker, where he forced Fr Jacques Hamel (86) to his knees and slit his throat. A second man, one of five hostages held by the attackers, was left in a critical condition after they attempted to cut his throat.

The two attackers were shot dead by police as they emerged from the church.

The French president, François Hollande, will meet religious leaders on Wednesday to discuss responses to the attack, as authorities come under increasing pressure to explain how Kermiche was released from jail awaiting trial after twice attempting to reach Syria to join Isis.

Kermiche was stopped by German police in March 2015 and accused of trying to travel to Syria. He was sent back to France, where he was given conditional parole awaiting trial. Two months later, he tried to enter Syria again, this time via Turkey. He was sent back to France again and was detained in May 2015.

Despite prosecutors’ protests, he was released in March this year. He was ordered to wear an electronic tag and could only leave his home between the hours of 8.30am and 12.30pm on weekdays. It was during this four-hour time frame that he carried out the attack.

Psychological troubles

Le Monde published sections of Kermiche’s legal file showing that since the age of six he had shown signs of “psychological troubles” for which he was regularly hospitalised. Court documents show he told the judge he “regretted his attempts to leave for Syria”.

“I want to get back my life, to see my friends, to get married,” he reportedly said during a parole hearing.

While the judge was convinced, the public prosecutor was not. “Even if he is asking for a second chance, there’s a very strong chance he will do the same thing if he is released,” the prosecutor said.

The Tribune de Genève reported that the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris on January 2015 had acted as trigger for Kermiche's attempts to get to Syria. He became secretive, started attending a mosque, and regularly lectured his non-practicing relatives.

Kermiche was the middle child of three to parents who had moved to France from Algeria. His mother, a professor, spoke to a Geneva newspaper in May 2015 , shortly after her son had been apprehended attempting to enter Syria for the second time, about her efforts to keep her son out of the grasp of jihadis.

“He said that (Muslims) couldn’t exercise their religion peacefully in France,” his mother said. “He spoke with words that didn’t belong to him. He was under a spell, like a cult.”

She said authorities refused her request to give him an electronic bracelet after he ran away to Syria the first time. “Fortunately we managed to catch him in time, twice. If he had made it to Syria, I would have written off my son. I want to know who messed up my kid. We don’t know where to turn for help.”

‘Ticking time bomb’

The NouvelObs reported that after his attempts to reach Syria, the local mosque asked him to stay away from prayers; a request he apparently ignored.

A local man told the magazine: “Adel, he didn’t have much in his head, he wasn’t very smart and he’d never succeeded at anything.”

Another resident told Le Parisien : “Everyone knows that this kid was a ticking time bomb. He was too strange.”

A neighbour told Le Figaro that Kermiche showed visible signs of mental disturbance. “He was crazy, he was talking to himself.”

Le Parisien reported that Kermiche had recently made a widespread appeal for money, and treated those who refused – the majority – as unbelievers or infidels.

A man given the pseudonym Christian by Le Parisien said he tried to help Kermiche after he was freed from prison in March this year. He said they were very close, though it was true that Kermiche “only spoke about religion”.

“His sister, his parents, me – we did everything to try and get him out. I tried to talk to him. I told him to stop and that if he needed anyone to confide in outside of his family, I was there. And he answered, ‘Yes, OK, you are right’. But it was like he was inside a bubble.”