PARIS: France’s interior minister ordered on Tuesday a review of registered gun owners who are also on the country’s extremist watchlist after one of them rammed a car laden with weapons and gas canisters into a police van on Paris’s Champs-Elysees.
Adam Djaziri, a suspected Islamist who had been on the watchlist since 2015, was killed on Monday as his car smashed into a police vehicle on the French capital’s most famous avenue.
Two handguns and a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle were found in the 31-year car, while a weapons stash was discovered at the home of the attacker.
A source close to the inquiry said a letter had been found in which Djaziri claimed allegiance to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Djaziri’s father, who has been detained, told AFP his son practised shooting as a sport, and a source close to the probe said he had nine registered weapons including pistols and an assault rifle.
In the letter, Djaziri boasted that he was playing a “double game” by amassing weapons for an attack by posing as a shooting enthusiast, the inquiry source said.
The head of the French Shooting Federation said police officers had visited Djaziri’s shooting club to enquire about him — implying that his keen interest in guns had raised suspicions.
The attempted attack comes as France remains under a state of emergency after a wave of jihadist assaults that have left more than 230 people dead since 2015.
As the month-old government of President Emmanuel Macron prepares to unveil a tougher new anti-terrorism law, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed dismay that Djaziri was able to have a gun permit.
“What I know at this stage is that the first weapons permit was given before this individual was flagged up,” he said in an interview with BFM television and RMC radio, but he added that “no one can be satisfied — and certainly not me” that Djaziri was able to possess dangerous weapons after being put on a watchlist.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper to appear on Wednesday explained that under current law the authorities cannot systematically take away a weapons permit from someone who is on a watchlist, but he vowed to take another look.
“I have asked my services to conduct a new review of the people monitored for radicalisation to see who might be likely to legally possess a weapon,” he said.
French Shooting Federation chief Philippe Crochard said Djaziri had been licensed for six years, and a source close to the probe said the attacker had requested a renewal of his permit in February.
Djaziri’s ex-wife, brother and sister-in-law were detained late on Monday after police questioned them at the family home in Plessis-Pate, south of Paris.
Raised in a strictly Salafist Muslim family, Djaziri had no criminal record but caught the attention of authorities after making several trips to Turkey — a route used by many European fighters heading to Syria — which he said were for work.
Djaziri died of “cardiorespiratory arrest” probably caused by the effects of inhaling the smoke which filled his vehicle after the collision, a source close the probe told Agence France-Presse.
The assailant’s car burst into flames and police pulled the driver from the smoke-filled vehicle.
There were no other casualties from the attempted attack.
Since the large-scale Paris attacks in November 2015 and last year’s Nice truck attack, France has suffered a string of smaller assaults mainly targeting security forces.
Few details have emerged of France’s new anti-terrorism law due to be unveiled Wednesday.
But a draft leaked to the daily Le Monde has sparked concern among civil liberties campaigners who worry it could make some emergency measures permanent, such as the ability to conduct searches at any time of day or night and to restrict suspects to a certain geographic area.
On Tuesday evening President Emmanuel Macron reached out to France’s Muslim community, being the first head of state in 10 years to attend the annual dinner breaking the Ramadan fast held by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM).
Macron thanked the Muslim leaders for condemning the jihadist attacks in France, while also urging the continued fight against the Islamic State group and “pursuing those who seek to turn our religious sites from places of prayer to places of hate, indeed calling for violence,” Macron said.
The current state of emergency in France is due to expire on July 15 but the government is seeking to extend it until November 1. AFP