PARIS - Larossi Abballa was an ordinary guy, friends said, who grew up outside Paris, liked to dress well and launched a food delivery business after getting out of prison. He was also known as a small-time player in the larger jihadi recruitment network.
Two days after Abballa slaughtered a police officer and the officer's companion, French investigators were still piecing together the trajectory of the 25-year-old who joined the growing list of home-grown French terrorists and claimed allegiance to Islamic State.
Questions are mounting about how a man with a prison record for radicalism managed to carry out Monday's attacks, despite being under police surveillance.
“What is most incredible is that, like Merah, like Coulibaly, like the Kouachi brothers…Larossi Abballa escaped the vigilance of authorities,” wrote the conservative Le Figaro newspaper, citing other French jihadists with criminal backgrounds who also launched assaults in recent years, including some of the authors of last year’s Paris attacks.
On Wednesday, France held a minute of silence for the 42-year-old police officer, Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, and his partner, Jessica Schneider, 36, whom Abballa stabbed to death Monday at their home in Magnanville, a small town about 55 kilometers west of Paris. Abballa was killed by police afterwards.
The killings have already become political fodder ahead of French elections in less than a year. The center-right conservatives and the far-right National Front have called for greater security and protection of law and order forces.
The French government also announced police will be allowed to carry firearms off duty, even after the current state of emergency is lifted.
“We cannot be content with flowers and candles,” said lawmaker Marion Marechal-Le Pen, of the far-right National Front. “If we’re at war, then we have to wage war.”
During a chilling discourse posted on Facebook shortly after the stabbings, Abballa promised a “surprise” during this year's Euro 2016 football championships which began June 10, adding with a smile that “Euro 2016 will be a graveyard.”
He also urged Muslims to act.
“Attack unbelievers by every means,” he said, citing journalists, city hall officials, police and rappers as fair targets, and singling out some by name.
Authorities say already high vigilance during the month-long sporting event will be increased even further. Even so, they warn, France cannot escape future strikes.
“More innocents will lose their lives,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on French radio. "We need to tighten the net and give police and intelligence services all the means they need, but we will witness further attacks.”
Those who knew Abballa paint a very different portrait of the person who was born and grew up in the Ile de France region outside Paris.
“He was just a young guy from the neighborhood, who liked to have fun and to party,” his former girlfriend said, in an interview broadcast on France Info Wednesday.
In 2011, Abballa was arrested for helping militants go to Pakistan and sentenced to jail in 2013. He was released soon after, having served most of his sentence in custody. Still, he remained under surveillance.
“When he left prison, he really distanced himself from others and he changed friends,” his former girlfriend said.
A childhood friend by the name of Saber, however, said Abballa appeared very much the same after prison.
“It was just his beard that suggested he was Muslim,” Saber told France’s BFMTV. “He’s a guy who was always smiling, always joking even if someone joked about religion.”
After his release, Abballa opened Dr. Food, a night-time fast food service that delivered halal burgers and sandwiches. YouTube videos show him working on deliveries by phone and starting conversations with the Muslim greeting of “Salam Aleikum,' peace be upon you in Arabic.
Evidence suggests Abballa was far from a peaceful man.
Former anti-terrorist judge Marc Tredivic, who questioned Abballa after his 2011 arrest, called him a “dissimulator…who wanted to wage jihad.”
Reports also describe text messages among Abballa’s extremist friends that underscored their eagerness to join the action, and Abballa’s own musings of waging war in France.
Tredivic said the charges against Abballa were tenuous. “There was not much that we could hold against him,” he told Le Figaro newspaper.
In negotiations with police Monday, Abballa said he had pledged allegiance to IS, which later claimed responsibility for his actions.
IS has called on its followers to launch attacks on the United States and Europe during Ramadan. During the Muslim fasting month last year, another IS supporter, Yassin Salhi, beheaded his boss near the city of Lyon.
In a statement released Wednesday, Rector Dalil Boubakeur of the Paris grand mosque described Abballa as “monstrous terrorist blinded by fanaticism.”
He called for a nationwide mobilization against terrorism and described those drawn to radical ideology as determined delinquents.
“These types of people circulate freely in France,” Boubakeur added. “This cannot continue.”