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France's anti-terrorism prosecutor opens an investigation into tourist's killing

French gendarmes patrol the Trocadero plaza near the Eiffel Tower on Sunday after a man targeted passersbys late Saturday, killing a German tourist with a knife and injuring two others.
Christophe Ena
French gendarmes patrol the Trocadero plaza near the Eiffel Tower on Sunday after a man targeted passersbys late Saturday, killing a German tourist with a knife and injuring two others.

Updated December 3, 2023 at 7:58 PM ET

PARIS — France's anti-terrorism prosecutor said Sunday he has opened an investigation into the fatal stabbing of a 23-year-old German-Filipino tourist near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, allegedly by a man who had been under surveillance for suspected Islamic radicalization.

Jean-Francois Ricard said in a news conference that suspect Armand Rajabpour-Miyandoab could face a preliminary charge of murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise. He said Rajabpour-Miyandoab is a French national who is being held in police custody.

Rajabpour-Miyandoab recorded a video before the attack in which he swore allegiance to the Islamic State group and expressed support for Islamic extremists operating in various areas, including in Africa, Iraq, Syria, Egypt's Sinai, Yemen, Iran and Pakistan, Ricard said.

The video, in Arabic, was published on Rajabpour-Miyandoa's account on X, formerly Twitter, where his recent posts included references to the Israel-Hamas war, the prosecutor said.

It wasn't immediately clear if Rajabpour-Miyandoab had legal representation. A message left Sunday with the prosecutor's office seeking to locate him for comment was not immediately returned.

Ricard said Rajabpour-Miyandoab was born in 1997 in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, outside Paris, in a family with no religious affiliation. He converted to Islam at the age of 18 and quickly adhered to Islamic extremist ideology, he said.

In 2016, he had planned to join the Islamic State group in Syria. The same year, he was convicted and imprisoned for four years, until 2020, on a charge of planning violence. He was under psychiatric treatment and was on a special list for feared radicals, the prosecutor confirmed.

Since the end earlier this year of a probation period during which he received mandatory psychiatric care, Rajabpour-Miyandoab was placed under the surveillance of intelligence services, Ricard said. His mother had in October expressed "concerns" over her son isolating himself, but no evidence was found that could have led to criminal proceedings, he added.

Three other people from Rajabpour-Miyandoab's entourage and family have been detained by police for questioning, Ricard said.

The apparently random attack near the Eiffel Tower on Saturday night has drawn special concern for the French capital less than a year before it hosts the Olympic Games, with the opening ceremony due to take place along the river in an unprecedented scenic start in the heart of Paris.

In a sign of that concern, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called a meeting for Sunday evening with key ministers and officials charged with security for a "total review" of measures in place and the handling of the "most dangerous individuals," her office said.

After killing the tourist, the attacker crossed the bridge to the city's Right Bank and injured two people, a British and a French national, with a hammer, authorities said. Ricard said both of them were able to get back home on Sunday.

Video circulating on the internet showed police officers, weapons drawn, cornering a man dressed in black, his face covered and what appeared to be a knife in his right hand.

The suspect cried "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) and a police officer twice tasered the suspect before arresting him, authorities said.

Questioned by police, the suspect expressed anguish about Muslims dying, notably in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, and claimed that France was an accomplice, Darmanin said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on X that the news from Paris was "shocking."

"My thoughts are with the friends and family of the young German man," she wrote. "Almost his entire life was before him. ... Hate and terror have no place in Europe."

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, in a post on X, expressed condolences for the victim's family and friends and hope that Europe stands together against terrorism. "A heartfelt thought to the family members and loved ones of the victim," she wrote. "May Europe stay united against every form of terrorism."

The French media widely reported that the man, who lived with his parents in the Essonne region, outside Paris, was of Iranian origin.

"This person was ready to kill others," Darmanin told reporters, who along with other government members and President Emmanuel Macron praised police officers for their response.

Well-known emergency physician Patrick Pelloux, who was among the first at the scene, told BFM-TV there was a large quantity of blood. Pelloux said he was told by the victim's entourage that the suspect stopped them to ask for a cigarette, then plunged his knife into the victim. "He aimed at the head, then the back. He knew where to strike," Pelloux said.

Ricard, the prosecutor, said the suspect had a history of contacts via social networks with one of the two men notorious for the gruesome killing of a priest during Mass in 2016 in Saint-Etienne du Rouvray. He said the suspect was also in touch with the man who killed a police couple at their home in Yvelines, west of Paris, a month earlier.

France has been under a heightened terror alert since the fatal stabbing in October of a teacher in the northern city of Arras by a former student originally from the Ingushetia region in Russia's Caucasus Mountains and suspected of Islamic radicalization. That came three years after another teacher was killed outside Paris, beheaded by a radicalized Chechen later killed by police.

The Saturday attack brought into sharp focus authorities' concern for potential terrorist violence during the 2024 Games.

Just days earlier, the Paris police chief had unveiled detailed plans for the Olympic Games' security in Paris, with zones where traffic will be restricted and people will be searched. The police chief, Laurent Nunez, said one of their concerns is that vehicles could be used as battering rams to plow through Olympic crowds.

Speaking Sunday evening on TF1 television about security concerns during the Olympics, Darmanin said this year's Rugby World Cup "took place in good conditions. So did the Pope's visit to Marseille, and so did the King and Queen of England (visit to France)."

He added that police plans prior to the attack include a security perimeter with checkpoints around the Eiffel Tower.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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