Paris knife attacker was known to counter-terrorism police

Khamzat Azimov, who struck in busy theatre district of French capital on Saturday night, had been flagged as a security risk

French officials said the knife-wielding attacker who killed a passerby and injured four others in Paris on Saturday evening had been previously been flagged as a possible security danger and interviewed by counter-terrorist police.

The attacker, named as Khamzat Azimov, 20, struck in one of the most popular areas of the city, near the celebrated opera house and theatres, before before being shot dead by police in Paris.

Police said he was previously interviewed because of his contacts , not his behaviour, and they insisted he had shown no signs of extremism in his everyday life or on social media.

Azimov, was listed as a person susceptible to Islamic radicalisation, but” more for the company he keeps than for his own behaviour, his actions or his opinions”, according to a report in Le Figaro.

French police took the man’s parents into custody on Sunday for questioning about his links to jihadists in Syria and searched the family home in the 18 th arrondissement in the north of Paris. One of Azimov’s friends from Strasbourg, where he grew up, was also reportedly detained for questioning.

Azimov struck at random in the busy region of restaurants and theatres near Paris’s Opera Garnier in the city’s second arrondissement, at about 8.50 pm local time.

Witnesses told Azimov, who was born in Chechnya, but procured French nationality in 2010 when his mother was naturalised, arrived at the scene of the attack by metro. He was dressed in black, and carrying a knife.

Police were quick to arrive at the scene as he strolled along rue Monsigny, a one-way street, apparently looking for victims. Panicked diners fled terraces or took refuge under tables inside restaurants.

Officers, praised for their sangfroid, reportedly tried to halt him with a stun-gun, but when he continued to threaten them shot him dead.

Witnesses told Azimov screamed:” Go ahead. Shoot. I’m going to get you .”

French police at the site of the knife attack near Opera Garnier in Paris. Photograph: Xinhua/ Rex/ Shutterstock

In the moments before, he stabbed to demise a 29 -year-old man walking in the street and injured four others. Two of the injured were said to be in a serious, but not life-threatening, condition in hospital.

Several witnesses claimed the attacker wept “Allahu Akbar” as he lunged at people. This was confirmed by the public prosecutor, Francois Molins. Isis has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Born in the Caucuses, Azimov’s family came to France in the early 2000 s and moved to Nice before settling on a housing estate at Elsau, in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, home to a large number of Chechen migrants. The family’s request for refugee status was initially refused; on appeal it was finally approved by the National Court for the Right to Asylum in 2004. Azimov’s father was refused French nationality after separating from the boy’s mother. Le Monde said the couple had since reunited and moved to a new home in the north of Paris.

Although he had never been in trouble with the police or the authorities and had no criminal record, he had come to the attention of French security services because of his contacts with a group of young people wanting to travel to Syria.

Azimov, who was not carrying identity papers, had been interviewed by counter-terrorism policemen a year ago after it was discovered he was friends with a human whose wife had travelled to Syria. He had been on the Fiche-S list of people considered a potential security danger since 2016 but was considered a suiveur ( follower ), or secondary figure, according to anti-terrorist policemen. He had no criminal record.

Up to 20,000- from radical Islamists to hooligans and members of the extreme right or extreme left- people are believed to be on the Fiche S listing and classified according to their potential danger.

In a series of tweets, the French chairperson, Emmanuel Macron, said his thoughts were with the victims of the attack and praised the courage of police who” neutralised the terrorist “.

” France is paying in blood is again, but it will not give one inch to the enemies of liberty ,” he wrote.

The interior minister, Gerard Collomb, hailed the sangfroid and quick reaction of police who shot the attacker.” My first believes are with the victims of this odious act ,” he tweeted.

Another woman who was out with her young son and ensure the knifeman said he seemed determined to assault police officers who had tried to surround and immobilise him.

” Police surrounded him and I truly thought that would stop him, but not at all. He literally jumped at the police. He was so determined ,” she told BFM TV.

She added:” He was small, slim, longish hair, like all the fashionable young, a three-day beard. He did not stand out. He was garmented ordinarily. Never in my life would I have thought he was going to attack .”

A forensic policeman and a police officer stand next to a numbered reference index pad and a camera on a tripod near the site of the crime in Paris. Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/ AFP/ Getty Images

A waiter on duty near the opera house, named merely as Jonathan, described the attack, which happened in front of his restaurant.

” The attacker was walking in the street, armed with a knife. He had a lot of blood on his hands. He was strolling in the road and stopping at all the shops. He was threatening everyone who crossed his track .”

He added:” He threatened a woman and her companion came to defend her and was threatened as well. Then he moved on to the next restaurant and assaulted it. I wasn’t especially worried, I was under the impression he was mad or medication up .”

On Sunday, while Macron and his wife Brigitte were taking a bank-holiday break at Fort de Bregancon in the south of France, Collomb held an hour-long emergency security meeting with representatives from the security services, police and advisers at the interior ministry.

France’s anti-terrorist brigade was investigating the attack and the prosecutor has opened an inquiry into slaying linked to a terrorist organisation.

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