The suspected terrorist who stabbed a man to death and injured four other people with a knife in central Paris on Saturday evening was a Chechen-born French citizen on a terror watchlist.
Named on Sunday as Khamzat Azimov, 20, he was questioned by counter-terrorism police last year over his links with Islamist radicals including a woman arrested in Hungary suspected of planning to join jihadists in Syria.
French intelligence identified him using facial recognition software. Born in Russia’s Chechen Republic, Azimov became French in 2010 when his mother was naturalised after being granted asylum.
Police shot him dead in Rue Monsigny, near the Palais Garnier opera house, only nine minutes after they received the first emergency call at 8.47pm on Saturday. He shouted ‘Allahu Akhbar’ (Arabic for God is greatest) as he slashed at bystanders' throats. Dozens ran, shouting warnings to others as they fled.
Oliver Woodhead, a Londoner who owns L’Entente, a brasserie serving British food just yards from the spot where the killer was shot, told the Daily Telegraph: “It could have been a lot worse if the police hadn’t got here so quickly, or if the weather had been warmer and more people had been sitting outside on café terraces where they would have been vulnerable. I think the attacker deliberately targeted people who looked like tourists to hurt the tourist industry, which is vital for France’s economy.”
The area, known for its nightlife and popular with tourists and Parisians, was bustling but less crowded than usual for a Saturday night because many residents were away on holiday.
On Sunday, blood mingled with rainwater lay in a puddle in the gutter opposite Mr Woodhead’s restaurant. After failing to subdue Azimov with a non-lethal Taser, police surrounded him and fired twice as he rushed at them, shouting: “Kill me or I’ll kill you.” One shot hit him and the other pierced the glass door of a café, Le Monsigny, which was closed at the time.
Overnight, doctors operated on a 54-year-old woman and a man, 34, who were seriously injured. The man was described as a foreign tourist but his nationality was not disclosed. Gérard Collomb, the interior minister, said both were “out of danger”. Another woman, aged 26, and a 31-year-old man had more minor injuries. One of the injured was a Chinese national, Chinese media reported. The Frenchman killed was named as Ronan, 29.
Azimov had no criminal record but was among about 20,000 people on the “S” file of suspects considered a potential security risk. The authorities now face questions over surveillance as other attacks have also been perpetrated by “S” file suspects.
Where the Paris knife attack took place
Police questioned Azimov’s parents on Sunday. They were taken into custody but were not thought to be suspects. It is standard procedure for detectives to question attackers’ relatives to piece together a fuller picture of their background and motives.
Investigators searched the furnished rooms where Azimov lived with his mother in a lodging house in a working-class neighbourhood of northern Paris with a large immigrant population.
A 20-year-old friend of Azimov was arrested in Strasbourg, eastern France, which was the attacker’s home before he moved to Paris. Police left the home with a man in handcuffs, his face hidden by a hood, wearing a black T-shirt with "Defend Grozny", the capital of Chechnya, on the front and a drawing of a Kalashnikov rifle on the back.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) claimed the attack on the group’s propaganda website. It is not known whether the assailant had pledged allegiance to the group.
In a tweet, President Emmanuel Macron said: “France is paying the price of blood once again but is not yielding an inch to the enemies of freedom.” Mr Macron praised the courage of the police officers “who neutralised the terrorist.”
Police cordoned off the area after the attack and instructed people to stay indoors while they ensured that there were no other assailants at large. People stayed in restaurants, bars and theatres for several hours after the attack, with doors closed and blinds or curtains drawn. They were told to remain quiet to avoid attracting attention.
Mr Woodhead, 40, said: “We had about 20 customers and I moved them away from the windows. We finished our service and we gave everyone a free round of drinks.”
Paris stabbings | Who is Khamzat Azimov?
He opened his restaurant as usual on Sunday. Echoing the sentiments of many Parisians, he said: “We’re carrying on as normal. This doesn’t frighten me. I’ve got friends who own a restaurant near Borough Market and you can’t let attacks like the one there or this one stop you doing what you do.”
France has been on high alert for the past three years amid a string of terror attacks that have killed nearly 250 people.
The state of emergency declared after 130 people were killed in coordinated attacks on the Bataclan concert venue in Paris and nearby bars and restaurants in November 2015 has been lifted. But most of its provisions, granting police extra powers to search premises and detain suspects, have been incorporated into French law.