French police are holding for questioning three people they believe to be close to the suspected Islamist attacker who stabbed a police commander to death outside his home and later killed his partner, a police source said. The attack was claimed by Islamic State and has been denounced by the government as "an abject act of terrorism."
The assailant, a 25-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin named Larossi Abballa, was jailed in 2013 for helping Islamist militants go to Pakistan, and was under security surveillance, including wiretaps, at the time of the attack, police sources said on Tuesday.
The attacker filmed part of the assault live on Facebook. In the online post, Abballa linked the attack to the Euro 2016 soccer tournament now under way in France, saying: "The Euros will be a graveyard."
Police said that Abballa waited outside the policeman's house in Magnanville – a suburb about 40 miles (65 km) west of Paris – on Monday evening. At around 8.30pm, Abballa attacked and killed the 42-year-old policeman by stabbing him repeatedly in the stomach. He then barricaded himself inside the house, and killed the policeman's wife — a secretary at a nearby police station — and held their three-year-old son hostage.
Police eventually shot and killed Abballa after they entered the couple's home at around midnight, hours after he had posted a 13-minute long video on Facebook Live, during which he swore allegiance to IS.
The boy was unharmed but in a state of shock.
Speaking at press conference on Tuesday, Paris prosecutor François Molins told reporters that police had arrested three men in connection with the attack. The three men are aged 27, 29 and 44, and are all reportedly friends of the suspect.
Molins said that the suspect had pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi three weeks ago, and that he had made a video prior to the attack.
The prosecutor also said that investigators had found a list of possible targets at the suspect's home, including public figures but also "rap artists, reporters, and police officers."
According to French daily Libération, flags at the French Interior Ministry were flown at half-mast today, and the Interior Minister will meet with police union representatives later today.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the couple had been "targeted" because they were cops. "I was profoundly moved and still am, [I am] affected by this terrifying act and by the murder of this couple of police officers, killed at home, in front of their child," he said.
Addressing members of his party at the National Assembly on Tuesday, Valls said that the government had already put in place extra security measures to protect police officers, and that the government "can't adopt a new measure every time."
"An abject act of terrorism was carried out yesterday in Magnanville," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after an emergency government meeting, before visiting Les Mureaux, where the police commander worked. President François Hollande said the killings were "undeniably a terrorist act" and that the terrorist threat in France was very high.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack in an official broadcast on al-Bayan Radio, the group's mouthpiece: "God has enabled one of the caliphate's soldiers in city of Les Mureaux near Paris to stab to death the deputy police chief and his wife." It also released a statement in French through its Amaq news agency, saying: "A fighter for the Islamic Sate has killed with a knife a deputy chief of the Mureaux police as well as his wife, a police official in the town of Magnanville near Paris."
Abballa was born in Meulan – not far from Magnanville – and had been living in Mantes-la-Jolie, where he had reportedly opened a fast food outlet in April. In addition to the three year prison sentence he was given in 2013, Abballa's name was recently flagged as being potentially affiliated with a Syrian extremist group. Authorities ultimately concluded that he did not pose a significant threat.
"He wanted to do jihad (holy war), that was clear," Mark Trevidic, the judge who presided over the 2013 investigation, told Le Figaro. "He had been in training in France, not militarily but physically." Trevidic added that authorities suspected Abballa of only having a minor role in the extremist group.
Abballa had also been convicted three times on charges of aggravated theft and driving without a license, a source close to the investigation told Reuters. Another source said that authorities were investigating "many things", including messages posted and shared by Abballa on social media.
If the group was indeed behind Monday's attack, it would be the first militant strike on French soil since IS gunmen and bombers carried out multiple assaults on bars, restaurants, a concert hall and a soccer stadium in Paris in November, killing 130 people. Since those attacks, France has been under a state of emergency and remains on high alert for the Euro 2016, which began last Friday.
Police are under "extreme pressure" and "close to burn-out," the head of the FO labor union Jean-Claude Mailly told France 2 television.
David Thomson, an RFI radio journalist specialized in Islamic radicalism, wrote on his Twitter page that Abballa had said, while broadcasting himself on Facebook Live,"I don't know yet what I'm going to do with him" with the couple's child behind him.
Reuters contributed to this report.