UPDATES WITH WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS
PARIS / WASHINGTON (AA) – A French police commander and his wife were killed Monday in an apparent attack claimed by Daesh.
The officer, who was named in French media as Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42, worked as an assistant chief in the town of Les Mureaux and was reportedly wearing civilian clothes at the time of the attack.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the suspect stabbed Salvaing several times before entering his home and taking his family hostage in the town of Magnanville in the Yvelines department southwest of Paris.
Raid special forces arrived at the scene around 9.30 p.m. local time (0700GMT) in an attempt to negotiate with the suspect, but talks failed, according to Brandet, forcing them to storm the house at around midnight.
Special forces shot the attacker but found the policeman’s wife dead. They were able to rescue the couple’s three-year-old son. “The toll is a heavy one,” Brandet told reporters at the scene.
“This commander, this police officer was killed by the individual [and] we discovered the body of a woman. The assailant, the criminal, was killed. Thankfully, a little boy was saved. He was in the house. He’s safe and sound. He was saved by police officers.”
French media quoted the Daesh-linked Amaq News Agency as saying on its Telegram channels, “Islamic State fighter kills deputy chief of the police station in the city of Les Mureaux and his wife with blade weapons near Paris.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement that an anti-terror probe had been launched into the attack. Cazeneuve expressed his “infinite sadness” at the death of the commander and his partner, who had worked for his ministry.
“The attacker was neutralized by Raid forces, who showed great composure and great professionalism and who saved the couple’s little boy,” according to Cazeneuve.
“The inquiry opened by the justice authorities will establish the precise circumstances of this tragedy.”
Versailles prosecutor Vincent Lesclous, who said he knew the slain commander, was cautious about drawing conclusions about the attack. “The investigation is beginning.
We have no serious [indication] on the motivation behind this act."
- The attacker
French daily Le Monde and RMC radio identified the attacker as Larossi Abballa, 25, a resident of the nearby town of Mantes-la-Jolie, where the female victim worked in the local police station and the police commander had previously worked before being transferred to Les Mureaux.
Abballa was a former prison inmate who was known to police for radicalism and already had a terrorism conviction. He had been sentenced to three years in prison in 2013 for “criminal association aiming to prepare terrorist attacks” for his role in a recruitment network of fighters linked to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Speaking at a press conference, Paris chief prosecutor Francois Molins confirmed the identity of the attacker.
Molins said the attacker told police during negotiations he had pledged allegiance to Daesh three weeks ago.
The prosecutor added Abballa had published on Facebook a 12-minute video during the attack claiming responsibility for it and sent it to 100 people. He also posted on Twitter with an account created six days earlier.
Molins said police have found a list of potential targets including the names of famous figures, rappers at the attacker's home.
He also confirmed that three men were arrested in connection with the investigation.
President Francois Hollande condemned the “odious act” and held a ministerial meeting in Ankara on Tuesday morning.
“Light will be shed on the circumstances of this abominable drama whose investigation, under the authority of justice, will determine the exact nature,” he said in a statement.
Speaking later on the sidelines of a meeting of the OECD in Paris, Hollande evoked an "unquestionably terrorist act." This couple was "assassinated with cowardice by a terrorist," Hollande said.
“France faces a terrorist threat of great importance" against which "we have mobilized considerable resources," he added.
France has been under a state of emergency since last November, when 130 victims were killed in terror attacks in Paris.
The White House said President Barack Obama was aware of the attack and that American authorities have reached out to the French government to assist in the investigation.
“This is obviously a concerning situation, and it's only enhanced by the fact that there are indications that the killer may have had a terrorist affiliation. So, U.S. officials have been in touch with French authorities,” according to spokesman Josh Earnest.
The French attack occurs just two days after a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 other at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Authorities said the shooter claimed allegiance to Daesh as the attack was in progress.