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France Raises Security Level After Attack

  • Lisa Bryant

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech after a high-level security meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, June 26, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech after a high-level security meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, June 26, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande said he was raising the security level in the region of Rhone-Alpes to "attack" – the highest possible – after a terrorist attack rocked a U.S.-owned gas factory in the country's southeast.

Hollande spoke after a high-level security meeting Friday afternoon, several hours after the attack on the factory in the small town of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon.

French counterterrorist forces were deployed to the gas factory, owned by Air Products, a U.S.-based industrial gases technology company, where a body and decapitated head was found covered with Arabic writing. A flag with Islamist inscriptions was also found nearby.

'Terrorist' attack

Hollande said a suspect was arrested and identified in what he called a "terrorist" attack.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the suspect, identified as Yassine Salhi, 35, a married father, had lived in the Lyon area and been under surveillance between 2006 and 2008.

Salhi, whom authorities said did not have a criminal record, was known to have had links to Salafist Muslims, but investigators said they did not find evidence that he was involved in previous terrorist attacks.

Cazeneuve, who called the incident a "heinous crime," said four other people have been detained for questioning, and there could be additional arrests.

Investigating police officers work outside the U.S.-based plant where an attack took place in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France, June 26, 2015.

Investigating police officers work outside the U.S.-based plant where an attack took place in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France, June 26, 2015.

Investigators are examining flags with Arabic inscriptions that were found at the gas factory, to see if they match slogans of the Islamic State militant group.

The man whose severed head was found pinned to the gates of the factory was a local businessman, according to media reports.

"It is a terror attack, no doubt about it," Hollande told a news conference in Brussels before returning to France. He learned about the attack with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as both leaders attended a European Union summit in Brussels.

Hollande said emotion must not be the only response to the attack.

"We need action, prevention, dissuasion and the necessity to uphold values, to never give in to fear, and to rise to every circumstance,” he said.

Details

While details are still sketchy, the president said at least two other people were injured in the attack, which took place around 10 a.m. local time (0800 GMT).

France opened a terrorism investigation shortly after the attack Friday.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Friday the attacker was known to factory personnel because he came in regularly for deliveries.

The attacker entered the factory grounds in southeast France in a utility truck, then crashed the vehicle into a hangar at the site, prompting an explosion.

Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, France

Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, France

Police said it was unclear whether the attacker was acting alone or had accomplices.

Hollande called on French citizens to stand in solidarity as the details of the attack are sorted out. He is expected to meet with his defense council later Friday.

Air Products reacts

The U.S.-based company whose factory was targeted Friday said it was "deeply saddened by the loss of life" and expressed its "sympathies to the family of the victim of this unspeakable tragedy."

"Emergency services are on site and have contained the situation. All individuals working at the site have been evacuated," the company said in a statement. "The site is secure. Our crisis and emergency response teams have been activated and are working closely with all relevant authorities."

It added that "security has been increased at locations around the world as a precautionary measure."

French police and firefighters gather at the entrance of the U.S.-based Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, June 26, 2015.

French police and firefighters gather at the entrance of the U.S.-based Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, June 26, 2015.

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Hollande Friday to convey his sympathies over the gas factory attack.

"The Prime Minister has just spoken to President Hollande to express his sympathies for what looks like an appalling incident there," the source said.

Attacks six months ago

The attack came nearly six months after Islamist attacks in and around Paris, at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket, bookending a three-day seige of violence that left 20 people dead, including three attackers.

France has a high proportion of people that have gone to fight alongside Islamists in Iraq and Syria and has been on alert for possible attacks on its soil since the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015.

French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015.

Earlier this week, the country passed a controversial new spying law granting sweeping powers to snoop on citizens.

Several other terror-related attacks occurred Friday, including in Tunisia, where officials said at least 27 people were killed in attacks at a hotel along the Mediterranean coast, and in Kuwait City, where a suicide bomber blew himself up during prayers at a Shi'ite mosque, killing more than a dozen people.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed on the spree of bloody terror attacks, a White House official said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said it was too soon to tell whether the three attacks were the work of Islamic State extremists but added “we unequivocally condemn these terrorist attacks.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said those “responsible for such appalling acts of violence must be swiftly brought to justice” and Interpol offered its help to all three nations.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini condemned Friday's attacks in France and Tunisia, saying the attacks could only unite Europe and the Arab world not divide them, and that a united response would be needed.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

French Gendarmes block the access road to the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, outside Lyon, France, June 26, 2015.

French Gendarmes block the access road to the industrial area of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, outside Lyon, France, June 26, 2015.

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