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Paris hammer attacker 'showed no sign of radicalisation'

An Algerian student suspected of attacking police officers in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral - with cries of "This is for Syria" and armed with a hammer - has been identified by a relative as an ex-journalist who firmly believed in democratic values and showed no signs of radicalisation.

The Paris prosecutor's office said a search of a residence linked to the suspect in the suburb of Cergy-Pontoise uncovered a declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State group.

A nephew in Algeria, lawyer Sofiane Ikken, said he was shocked at the finding because his uncle, Farid Ikken, had previously expressed disdain for the extremist group.

"I really can't understand it or believe it," he said. "We couldn't believe that Farid committed such an act. Everyone is calling me to say, 'We can't believe it. It's not the person we knew.'"

The assault was the latest act of violence targeting security forces at high-profile sites in France, which remains under a state of emergency after a string of Islamic extremist attacks.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said police quickly classified Tuesday's hammer attack as a "terrorist act" because of "the words he said".

The assailant yelled "This is for Syria" while trying to strike officers patrolling outside Notre-Dame.

One officer was injured slightly.

Video of the incident shows a man lunging at officers on the plaza outside the cathedral, then being shot. The attacker remains in hospital with gunshot wounds.

A student identity card showed he was from Algeria and aged 40.

University of Lorraine president Pierre Mutzenhardt said the suspect was enrolled as a student at the school in eastern France, where he had been working since 2014 on a thesis about North African media.

"There'd been no difficulties with him. Nothing strange had been detected," Mr Mutzenhardt said.

His thesis director, Arnaud Mercier, said the alleged attacker spoke Swedish, Arabic and French and that his CV stated he had worked as a journalist in Sweden and Algeria.

"He was someone who believed a lot in democratic ideals, the expression of free thinking, in journalism," Mr Mercier said.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing, foretold that one day he'd be a jihadi who'd want to kill a policeman in the name of I don't know what cause."

Algerian journalist Kamal Ouhnia, a friend who said he previously worked alongside Ikken on reporting assignments, described him as a bon vivant and a lover of fine wine.

"I don't believe at all that he was radicalised," he said. "I'm more inclined to think that he has suffered a nervous breakdown."

Ikken's nephew said that after studying journalism in Sweden, he was hired by a firm in Oslo, Norway, that sent him to Paris to work. He returned to Algeria in 2011, opening a PR agency, establishing an online newsletter and working as a journalist, before moving back to France for doctoral studies.

Ikken's family is not religious, according to his nephew. When they last spoke three weeks ago, the nephew said he sensed his uncle was feeling "a little bit alone".

He said they discussed Syria in the past and that Ikken was "sensitive about the massacres" there, but gave no indications of having been radicalised.

AP

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