PARIS (AFP) — There was confusion Monday over the identity of the man who injured two people in a meat cleaver attack in Paris last week, which was condemned by the French government as an act of “Islamist terrorism.”
Investigators said the assailant had identified himself as Hassan A., an 18-year-old born in Pakistan.
But in a video in which he said he was targeting the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo — the scene of a massacre by Islamist gunmen in January 2015 — the man said his name was Zaheer Hassan Mehmood.
Investigators found a photo of an identity document on the attacker’s cellphone of a man by the same name, aged 25, a source close to the investigation told AFP.
The attacker seriously injured two employees of a TV production agency, whose offices are on the same block that used to house Charlie Hebdo. They are now in stable condition, officials said.
The attacker told investigators he thought he was targeting employees of Charlie Hebdo, but did not realize they had since moved to a new location that is kept secret because of security risks.
He said he was avenging the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
The authorities said the claimed identity of Hassan A. belongs to a young man born in the Pakistani town of Mandi Bahauddin.
It appears he entered France three years ago, and was not known to police and not known to have ever displayed signs of supporting radical Islam.
However a man claiming to be the suspect’s father, Arshad Mehmood, told AFP by telephone from Mandi Bahauddin that he was “very happy with what my son has done.”
“My son Zaheer Hassan went to France two years ago,” he said.
“He protected the honor of the prophet, peace be upon him, by attacking those who have printed things about our prophet,” he said. “The entire village has come to congratulate me.”
“I hope the government can help in getting my son home. He should not be harmed in any way,” he added.
‘I will condemn’
In a two-minute video recorded under the name of Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, the attacker announced that: “Today, Friday September 25, I will condemn” Charlie Hebdo, though he did not claim to act on behalf of any organization.
The attacker remained in custody Monday, along with five others who investigators said were being held to learn more about the suspect’s “environment,” though police believe he acted alone.
The five include three former roommates of the attacker, his younger brother, and an acquaintance.
Five more people have been released from custody, including a man identified as Youssef, 22, who claimed he was arrested while trying to stop the attack.
“I wanted to be a hero, I ended up behind bars,” he told TF1 television Sunday.
The attack came three weeks into a trial of suspected accomplices of the authors of the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, which also saw a policewoman gunned down in the street.
Seventeen people were killed in the three-day spree that heralded a wave of Islamist violence in France that has so far claimed 258 lives.
“Of course we, Charlie Hebdo, are on the front line again,” Richard Malka, a lawyer for the satirical weekly, said on the margins of the trial.
French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile told Monday’s cabinet meeting that “the terrorist threat still persists in our country,” said government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
Macron said it was time to “re-examine, if necessary, a certain number of measures taken” in the light of the latest attack.
The head of the presidency’s anti-terror task force, Laurent Nunez, told AFP on Sunday that detection techniques had improved, but acknowledged that “we still need to tighten the net.”