Afghan killer sparks far-right criticism in France

Lyon, September 1

An Afghan asylum seeker who killed a man and stabbed several others in the French city of Lyon sparked a row about immigration on Sunday as new details emerged about his rampage.

Investigators said the killer appeared to have psychological problems and had smoked large quantities of cannabis before stabbing a 19-year-old to death and injuring eight others on Saturday afternoon at a bus station in the Villeurbanne suburb.

He was found in public records with two identities and three different dates of birth, making him either 33, 31 or 27 years’ old, prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told a press conference in Lyon on Sunday.

During “confused” interviews with police, he said he was Muslim “who had heard voices saying God had been insulted and instructing him to kill”, Jacquet said, adding that the case was being treated as a criminal, rather than terrorist, incident.

Jacquet paid tribute to three bus drivers and other members of the public who had succeeded in cornering the man and persuading him to drop his knife and a meat skewer before the police arrived on the scene.

“I want to pay tribute to the actions of witnesses. Their courageous and controlled intervention was decisive in ending these criminal acts,” he added.

Sofiane, a 17-year-old from the area, told AFP on Sunday that the dead man was one of the first to try to reason with the knifeman.

The killer “stabbed him and then when he fell on the ground, he continued”, Sofiane explained.

Far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen led criticism of what she termed “the laxness of migration policy” in France which she said was “a serious threat to the safety of French people”.    

Prosecutor Jacquet said the knifeman had been first registered in France in 2009 as a minor, but he then travelled to Germany, Norway, Britain and Italy before returning to France in 2016 where he was granted temporary residency rights.

His room in an asylum seekers’ centre near to scene of the stabbings was raided by police on Sunday night.

The mayor of Villeurbanne, Jean-Paul Bret from the Socialist party, accused Le Pen and others on the right and far-right of “exploiting things politically”.         

“It’s the classic reaction from the far-right which tries to turn a dramatic event to its advantage,” he told the RTL radio station.

He also reminded Le Pen that offering asylum to people fleeing conflict in places such as Afghanistan was an international duty that France respected.

France has been the victim of a string of Islamist-inspired terror attacks since 2015 that have cost hundreds of lives.

Two of the eight injured victims remained in hospital on Sunday, but none was in intensive care, Jacquet said. — AFP