image

Islamic militancy

Islamic State claims responsibility after two women killed in Marseille train station knife attack

Attacker at the main Marseille train station was believed to be Tunisian and had gone under eight different aliases

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 10:53pm

French antiterrorism investigators scrambled on Monday to identify a knifeman who used multiple aliases before killing two women at the main train station in Marseille in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Sunday’s killings in France’s second-biggest city followed a string of stabbings around Europe claimed by, or blamed on Islamist radicals.

The identity of the attacker in Marseille, a man with a record of petty crime who was said by witnesses to have shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) at the start of his rampage, is still unknown.

French prosecutor Francois Molins said the suspect had presented a Tunisian passport to police when he was last stopped on September 29.

Investigators said he had gone by eight different names during various brushes with the law, including for shoplifting and illegal weapons possession.

His victims were cousins from the eastern French city of Lyon, both aged 20. One was studying in Marseille and the other was visiting her for the weekend.

One had her throat slit by the knifeman, who was seen on video camera footage striking his first victim from behind and then fleeing – only to return to launch a frenzied attack on her cousin.

IS’s Amaq propaganda agency later said he was “from the soldiers of the Islamic State”.

The attacker was shot dead by soldiers.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he was “deeply angered by this barbaric act”, and said he shared the pain of the families and friends of the victims.

The deaths came as parliament prepares on Tuesday to vote on a controversial anti-terror bill that transposes some of the exceptional powers granted to the police under a 22-month-old state of emergency into national law.

Rights groups have warned that this security law reduces judicial oversight over the actions of the police.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on Sunday evening that the motives of the killer were unclear.

The latest deaths came with France still under a state of emergency following a string of attacks since 2015 that had claimed 239 lives before Sunday’s incident.

Police evacuated the ornate rail terminus in the heart of Marseille after the attack, temporarily halting all train traffic on some of the country’s busiest lines.

“I was on the esplanade just in front of the station,” said Melanie Petit, an 18-year-old student. “I heard someone shout ‘Allahu akbar’ and I saw a man who seemed to be dressed all in black.”

The assailant had no papers on him, sources close to the investigation said.

Anti-terror prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into “killings linked to a terrorist organisation” and the “attempted killing of a public official”.