French police arrested three men, age 27, 29 and 44, on Tuesday in connection with the murder by an Islamic State jihadist of a police officer and police secretary at their home in Magnanville, 50 km northwest of Paris.
The Paris prosecutor Francois Molins announced the arrests at a press conference where he recounted the killing of police commandant Jean-Baptiste Salvaing (42), and his partner, Jessica Schnieder (36).
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly that 16 people suspected of terrorist activities have been arrested in the last two weeks.
Reacting to the police killings, President Francois Hollande said France “has mobilised considerable force” against “the very substantial terrorist threat” confronting the country.
Larossi Abballa, a 25-year-old Frenchman with a previous conviction related to his participation in a jihadist network, stabbed Salvaing nine times in the abdomen when he came home from work.
Abballa then retreated into the bungalow that Salvaing shared with his family and slashed Schnieder’s throat.
The couple’s three-and-a-half year old son, Mathieu, was in shock but physically unhurt. Police later took the orphan to Necker children’s hospital in Paris.
“A new threshold of horror has been crossed,” Valls said. “It was at their home, in the privacy of their family, that the couple were targeted.”
Valls linked the killings in Magnanville to the massacre at a gay club in Orlando on Sunday, saying it was “the same ideology, the same conviction… killing to prevent us living normally. It is a global threat and the end of a certain form of insouciance for our societies. It will be a long battle… probably for a generation.”
‘List of targets’
Molins said “a list of targets mentioning personalities and professions such as rap singers, journalists, police and public personalities” was found inside the house. Police seized “three telephones, three knives, and in particular a bloody knife resting on the table.”
In Abballa’s car, parked beside the house, police found a Koran, a white robe and three religious books.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murders by its “combatant” within hours, through the group’s “news” agency Amaq. The group used the same procedure to take credit for the Orlando massacre.
Molins said that Salvaing, who was the deputy head of the judiciary police at Les Mureaux commissariat, was attacked by Abballa between 8 pm and 8.20 pm. He shouted to neighbours to call the police. They heard the killer scream “Allahu Akhbar”.
It is not clear whether Abballa knew Salvaing or how he found his address. Prosecutor Molins said that during negotiations, Abballa “said he knew the victim was a policeman and threatened to blow everything up if police entered.”
Salvaing had served as a policeman in the Yvelines department for 13 years, and was previously assigned to the commissariat at Mantes-la-Jolie, where Abballa lived. Abballa had a record for theft and violent crime.
“In the course of negotiations with the (anti-terrorist police) RAID, the killer said he was a Muslim and was fasting for Ramadin,” Molins said. “He said he had pledged allegiance to the commander of the faithful of the Islamic State, Emir al-Baghdadi, three weeks ago, and that he was responding to a communique by this emir ordering ‘the killing of infidels at home with their families’.”
Islamic State is also known as Isis.
Police negotiated with Abballa for two and a half hours. At 8.52 pm, about half an hour after killing Salvaing, Abballa posted a 12-minute video from inside his victims’ home, claiming responsibility for the killings on “Facebook live”. The killer transmitted the video to about 100 contacts. He also posted two claims of responsibility via a Twitter account he had opened on January 8, 2016.
David Thomson, a journalist at Radio France Internationale who follows jihadism, quoted Abballa’s video in tweets. “One answered favorably to Sheikh Adnani,” Abballa said, referring to Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the official spokesman of Islamic State.
"The Euros will be a cemetery," Abballa threatened. The killings took place three days after the launch of the month-long Euro 2016 football tournament.
Abballa also posted photos of his victims on Facebook. Their son Mathieu appeared on the sofa behind him, in the video claiming responsibility. “I don’t know yet what I’m going to do with him,” Abballa said.
Abballa was killed when police stormed the house at midnight. He was identified by his fingerprints.
Seven police and soldiers have been killed by jihadists in France since 2012, but this is the first time they have sought out a policeman in his home and killed his partner.
Emotions are running high in the French police force, which has been stretched by 18 months of continuous terrorism alerts. Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve was to meet with police leaders on Tuesday evening. In the wake of the Magnanville killings, police have been authorised to take their weapons home with them.
“There can only be horror and consternation before such an abject murder,” said Patrice Ribeiro of the Synergie officiers police syndicate. “It is part of Islamic State’s stragegy to attack police.”
On September 30th 2013, Abballa had been sentenced to three years in prison for participating in a network that sent Frenchmen to Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaeda. Because he had already served two and a half years in preventive detention, he was released and put on probation.
Prison officials noticed Abballa’s “radical Islamist proselytism,” Molins said.
Abballa had been under police surveillance since last February 11, in an investigation of a network that sent jihadist recruits to Syria, Molins said. Wire taps on his phones provided no evidence that would have justified arresting him.
The anti-terrorist judge Marc Trévidic told Le Figaro that he had charged Abballa in the 2013 case, in which the killer played a “minor role.”
Islamist cases are “teeming” with men like Abballa, Trévidic said. “Unpredictable, deceptive. He wanted to make jihad, that’s certain. He trained himself in France, not militarily, but physically. But concretely, at the time, except for the company he kept and some jogging to stay in shape, there wasn’t much we could hit him with in terms of criminal procedures.”
RMC radio reported that Abballa had opened a restaurant called Dr. Food in Mantes-la-Jolie last year.
One of Abballa’s former teachers told the radio station that he was very religious. “He was subject to rages, was very moody and could be violent,” the teacher said.