French police couple murdered at home in terrorist attack

The couple's three-year-old son survived the knife attack by a man claiming allegiance to Islamic State group and who was later killed by police.

This article is freely available. Check out our subscription offers. Subscribe

The French government has denounced an “abject act of terrorism” after a man with a previous terrorist conviction carried out a gruesome knife murder of a police commander and his partner at their home outside Paris in the presence of their three-year-old son, reports The Guardian.

Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42, a police commander had returned to his home in the quiet residential area of Magnanville 50km (30 miles) west of Paris at 8.30 p.m. on Monday night in plain clothes, when Larossi Abballa, a French man previously convicted of taking part in a jihadi recruitment network and claiming allegiance to Islamic State, lay in wait for him hidden behind a gate.

Salvaing first managed to escape and shouted at neighbours to call the police, but Abballa caught up with him on the pavement and repeatedly knifed him in the stomach, killing him.

Abballa, 25, then ran into the house and held hostage the commander’s 36-year-old partner, who worked as a police administrator in a police station in nearby Mantes-la-Jolie, as well as the couple’s three-year-old son.

Elite police squads were called to the scene, evacuated neighbours, sealed off the area and cut off electricity, plunging the street into darkness.

Police negotiators attempted to talk to Abballa, who said he was a soldier for Islamic State and had sworn allegiance to the group. He said that he had deliberately targeted police.

The negotiations failed and shortly before midnight loud explosions and shots were heard as police stormed the house and killed the attacker. They found the woman dead from a knife-wound to the neck, and rescued the couple’s son alive.

Abballa posted images of his assault live on Facebook, according to David Thomson, a French journalist specialising in French jihadism, who tweeted that the attacker filmed himself at the scene inside the house with the three-year-old boy behind him on the sofa. Abballa said, with the boy seated behind him: “I don’t know yet what I’m going to do with him.”

Thomson reported that the Facebook account was deactivated and the video was being examined by police.

The three-year-old was carried from the scene by police after Abballa was killed by the elite squad. A prosecutor said the boy was “in shock but unharmed”.

The mayor of Magnanville, Michel Lebouc, visited Allée de Perdrix, where the double killer struck. He said the boy was being looked after by social services, adding that children at the boy’s school would be offered counselling.

“[The killer] was not at all known in Magnanville,” he said. “I understood he lived in Mantes-la-Jolie. He came to carry out an attack in Magnanville because he wanted to hit the state in its flesh, so he attacked two policemen who worked for for the nation.”

He said the woman had been dead before the police moved in. “The [police] assault took place this night. The mother of the small boy was already dead when the assault took place. The small boy has been evacuated to the care of social services in Paris.”

Allée de Perdrix was sealed off by French police on Tuesday. The property where the police officer was killed is in a pretty street of relatively modern and uniformly off-white with tile roof houses and bungalows, opposite a playing field with a white picket fence.

The police officers moved in two years ago and were well known locally. The woman who was killed was active at the local town hall.

Neighbour Monique Fohrer said she had first heard sirens at around 8.45pm on Monday. As the evening progressed, she said the scene was “like something out of a warzone”.

“It’s not the sort of thing that happens in Magnanville,” she said. “If it wasn’t so tragic, you’d have thought it was a scene in a film.”

Fohrer said after rapid response police arrived, locals heard gunfire some time before midnight.

“We guessed it was the police going in and they had shot the man inside. Then we heard the woman who was being held hostage had had her throat slit. We didn’t know at that point that it was a terrorist.”

She added: “All we can think of is the horror for that poor boy. It is unthinkable.”

Abballa, was French and lived in Mantes-La-Jolie. Salvaing had also worked in Mantes-la-Jolie before being appointed to a command post in Les Mureaux, a few kilometres away.

Abballa had been sentenced to three years in prison, six months suspended, in 2013 for “criminal association in view to preparing terrorist attacks” over his role in a recruitment network of jihadis to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before his arrest in that case, aged 20, in 2011, he had been known to police for crime including theft and violence. He was released from prison in September 2013 after serving most of his sentence while he was on remand.

He was on a French monitoring list and is also reported to have been recently identified and monitored as part of the entourage of a French man who had recently left for Syria.

Abballa’s home in Mantes-la-Jolie was searched by police and two people were arrested in the inquiry. The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said there were likely to be related arrests as investigators sought to stop any possible accomplices.

Isis appeared to claim the attack through its news agency. The Site Intelligence Group, a US-based monitor, cited the Isis-linked Amaq News Agency as saying on its Telegram channels shortly afer the attack: “Islamic State fighter kills deputy chief of the police station in the city of Les Mureaux and his wife with blade weapons near Paris.”

If the attack is confirmed as being by Islamic State it would be the first jihadi attack in France since a state of emergency was declared when coordinated jihadi attacks on a stadium, bars and a rock-gig in Paris on 12 November last year killed 130 people.

The French president, François Hollande, who held crisis talks at the Elysée, said the double murder – which he had called “odious” – was “undeniably a terrorist attack”. He said France was facing a terror threat on “a very large scale”.

Read more of this report from The Guardian.

Extend your reading on Mediapart Unlimited access to the Journal free contribution in the Club Subscribe