French police are investigating how two 19-year-olds known to have been radicalised — one of whom was tagged and meant to be under house arrest — were able to murder a priest at the altar as he led Mass.
The pair were seen pledging allegiance to IS in a chilling video that was released by the terrorist group yesterday.
Abdel Malik P, a French 19-year-old convert to Islam, was identified as the second attacker who seized hostages at the church with Adel Kermiche, also 19.
The pair slit Father Jacques Hamel’s throat and forced a parishioner to film the death throes of the 85-year-old cleric at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy.
Both teenagers were known to the police for having links to Islamist extremism. Officers had also been looking for Abdel Malik P for several days before the attack because they had lost track of his whereabouts, it emerged yesterday.
Kermiche was tagged after being released from detention in March while awaiting trial for membership of a terror group. He remained under house arrest at his parent’s home in the small town, but was allowed out for four hours a day. It was during that time that the attack took place.
Police found Abdel Malik P’s identity card while searching the Kermiche family home. Investigators also searched the flat of his mother in Aix-les-Bains, a town in the south-eastern Savoie region where he was known to be living — 800km from Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. It is not known how the killers knew each other.
Both were shot dead by police as they left the church, forcing hostages to go ahead of them as human shields. Abdel Malik P was hit in the face, which slowed down identification. Police did not release his surname.
Emotions in France that were already raw after the July 14 truck attack in Nice that killed 84 people became more frayed after the church in Normandy was attacked. Both incidents were claimed by the IS.
With the attack threat for the country ranked as extremely high, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France was working to protect 56 remaining summer events, some of which could be cancelled.
Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 4,000 members of the Sentinel military force would patrol Paris, while another 6,000 will patrol the provinces. They will be bolstered by tens of thousands of police and reservists.
In Syria, meanwhile, IS claimed the murder of 44 people killed in a bombing in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli. The blast was caused by a truck bomb that struck near a security headquarters.
Pope Francis warned that the recent wave of jihadist attacks was proof that “the world is at war”, but stressed he did not mean a war of religions, but rather a conflict over “interests, money and resources”.