Police detain 47-year-old suspect; Tunisia to probe claim of responsibility for Thursday’s incident.
Mourners lit candles and prayed silently on Friday to honour the three people killed in a French church by a young Tunisian extremist, as France heightened security at potential targets at home and abroad amid geopolitical tensions around published cartoons mocking the Prophet of Islam.
Tunisian anti-terrorism authorities opened an investigation on Friday into an online claim of responsibility by a person who said the attack on the Notre Dame Basilica in the French Riviera city of Nice was staged by a heretofore-unknown Tunisian extremist group.
Investigators detained a second suspect in Thursday’s attack, a 47-year-old man is believed to have been in contact with the assailant the night before, according to a judicial official who was not authorised to be publicly named. The attacker, Ibrahim Issaoui, was seriously wounded by police and hospitalised in life-threatening condition, authorities said.
A substitute prosecutor at the Tunisian anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office, Mohsen Dali, said that the claim of responsibility came in an online post, saying the attack was staged by a group called Al Mehdi of Southern Tunisia, previously unknown to Tunisian authorities. Issaoui was arrested in 2016 for violence and using a knife, said Mr. Dali.
As France entered a new virus lockdown on Friday, four soldiers with rifles periodically walked past the church in Nice and mourners placed flowers, messages and candles at the entrance, crossing themselves and praying silently for the three victims.
They included 55-year-old church warden Vincent Loques, a father of two.
Another victim was Brazilian-born Simone Barreto Silva, a 44-year-old mother of three who moved to France to join a dance group led by her sister and worked in elderly care, according to Brazilian media G1. Silva was playful and dreamed of travelling around the world in a food truck, her friend Ivana Gomes Amorim told G1.
In an interview broadcast on Friday with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, the attacker’s mother said she was shocked by the events.
From the Tunisian province of Sfax, the mother, her eyes wet with tears, said she was surprised to hear her son was in France when he called upon his arrival and had no idea what he was planning. “You don’t know the French language, you don’t know anyone there, you’re going to live alone there, why, why did you go there?” she said she told him over the phone.
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France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said the suspect is a Tunisian born in 1999 who reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, a key landing point for migrants crossing in boats from North Africa, on September 20. It is not clear when he arrived in Nice.
Italy’s Interior Minister confirmed on Friday that the suspect was ordered to leave Italy on October 9.
France’s Interior Minister said on Friday that the country is “at war” with Islamist extremists, and the conservative lawmaker for the Nice region, Eric Ciotti, called for a “French-style Guantanamo” to lock up terrorist suspects.