PARIS - A fifth person is being held for questioning in the stabbing death late last week of a police employee outside Paris, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said Sunday. He noted the assailant, a Tunisian national, viewed videos glorifying jihad, or Muslim holy war, and may have visited to a Muslim prayer hall before the attack.
AAnti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard confirmed reports that Tunisian Jamel Gorchene consulted videos on his cell phone extolling martyrdom and jihad, minutes before stabbing a 49-year-old police worker and mother of two Friday in the quiet town of Rambouillet, 60 kilometers from Paris.
Speaking at a press conference, Ricard recounted in detail Gorchene’s actions leading up to the attack that took place at a police station. Ricard said cameras captured Gorchene passing the station in Rambouillet several times on a scooter. They also captured him heading toward a Muslim prayer hall, but there were no images of him actually going inside. Ricard said police later found a Quran and Muslim prayer rug in Gorchene’s scooter.
Ricard said on Friday afternoon, Gorchene headed to the police station as his victim left the building. He appeared to have consulted the phone videos just before sprinting after the worker as she reentered the precinct. Witnesses said he cried Allahu Akbhar, or God is great, in Arabic, as he stabbed her in the abdomen and throat. Ricard says police shot Gorchene dead after Gorchene refused to put down his knife.
Police have detained several people, including Gorchene’s father, two cousins and a couple who sheltered the 36-year-old assailant in another Paris-area town. The father told French investigators his son had adopted a rigorous form of Islam. Ricard said Gorchene also consulted psychiatric services at a hospital but didn’t appear to need treatment.
The prosecutor said Gorchene’s Facebook page appears to show a slow change from religious ideology to embracing violence. He said Gorchene registered support, for example, for the assailant who beheaded school teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb last October after Paty showed his class cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims consider the images blasphemous.
Ricard said France is working with investigators in Tunisia, where Gorchene returned to visit family near the coastal city of Sousse earlier this year. Ricard said Gorchene received French working papers last year as a delivery man but appeared to have lived illegally in France for a long period before that.
Authorities are looking for other possible suspects or accomplices in the killing.
Tunisia was among the biggest exporters of jihadists to places like Syria and Libya a few years ago. Tunisian authorities have condemned the Rambouillet attack.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin unveils new legislation Wednesday to reinforce the fight against terrorism here. In an interview published Sunday, Darmanin called it France’s biggest threat, with 575 suspected radicals expelled from the country since 2017.