Morocco asks why France didn't flag up supermarket attacker

2018-03-28 16:33


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The head of Morocco's counterterrorism agency said on Tuesday that France should have alerted his country about the extremist behavior of the French-Moroccan gunman who carried out a deadly supermarket attack in southern France.

While French authorities had monitored Radouane Lakdim before his rampage on Friday and normally share information about radicalised dual nationals, "We were not notified about Lakdim's radical background," Abdelhak Khiame, director of Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, told The Associated Press.

He spoke as French authorities filed preliminary terrorism charges against the attacker's girlfriend - an 18-year-old convert to Islam who was also on a French watch list for radicalism.

Khiame is not the only one asking what went wrong ahead of Friday's attack, which killed four people. French media and opposition politicians have questioned how authorities let Lakdim slip through their net, after a string of attacks in recent years involving young men already on police radar.

Khiame called the absence of communication with France, a close Moroccan ally, an apparent "misunderstanding."

"His country of birth should have been notified that its national is wanted by French security," Khiame said in his bureau's headquarters in Sale, near Morocco's capital, Rabat. Lakdim was born in Morocco in 1992 but went soon afterward to France with his family, and became a French citizen in 2004.

French officials did not immediately respond to Khiame's concerns.

Khiame's agency, considered as Morocco's FBI, helped European authorities identify and investigate suspects in the attacks in Barcelona last year and Paris in 2015.

Since Friday's attack, Khiame said, his agency has investigated Lakdim's family members in Morocco but found "no sign of radical beliefs."

"During all of his family visits and vacation time in Morocco, Lakdim never raised suspicions of local police," he added.

Khiame said Lakdim's last visit was in 2012, before the establishment of the Islamic State extremist group, which claimed responsibility for Friday's attack.

He said the increase in the number of Moroccans becoming ISIS fighters has raised alarms at his agency. Moroccans make up a large subset of ISIS foreign fighters - a total of 1 664 people at the agency's last count. Dual Moroccan-European citizens were notably behind ISIS attacks on Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016.

Khiame said his agency has stepped up monitoring of Moroccans in Europe, and "multiplied its discussions with European countries to identify Moroccan nationals suspected of radical beliefs."

Earlier on Tuesday, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers that French intelligence services have thwarted 51 attacks since January 2015 - though 11 attacks were carried out.

He called it "a terrible combat, a hand-to-hand struggle, in which we will have successes - we had some - and in which we might have failures."

Counterterrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said Lakdim had been listed on a police register for radicalised people since 2014 and was under intelligence monitoring in the days leading up to the attack. But the prosecutor said the surveillance didn't detect any warning signs that he was going to commit a violent action or any intention to go to Iraq or Syria, Molins said.

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Lakdim's girlfriend was also on police radar. Investigating judges on Tuesday filed preliminary charges of criminal terrorist association against the woman, identified only as Marine P., according to a judicial official.

The prosecutor said the girlfriend denied involvement in Lakdim's plans. But Molins said she posted online a Quran verse "indicating that infidels were promised to hell" just a few hours before the attack.

A 17-year-old male friend of Lakdim's was released on Tuesday for lack of evidence of involvement.

Lawmakers at the National Assembly in Paris observed a minute of silence on Tuesday for the four people who died.

French President Emmanuel Macron planned to address a national memorial ceremony on Wednesday for Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, a police officer who swapped himself for a hostage in the supermarket and was killed.

Read more on:    morocco  |  north africa

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