ISIS fanatic killed three people Friday in a terrorist attack that tore through roadways and a supermarket, illustrating the difficulty Europe faces in countering radicals whom Islamic State has instructed to hit soft targets.
By – Noemie Bisserbe, Nick Kostov & Catherine Bolgar
The assault began when Moroccan-born Radouane Lakdim, 25 years old, opened fire on a car with a handgun, killing one of its passengers and wounding the driver. He then targeted a group of jogging policemen—shooting one of the officers in the shoulder—before arriving at a Super-U big-box store on the outskirts of Trèbes, a sun-kissed town in Southern France.
There, he killed two more people, taking hostages and demanding the release of Salah Abdeslam, a French national arrested two years ago on suspicion of helping carry out the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks on Paris that killed 130 people. The standoff ended when police stormed the store and killed Lakdim.
The attack is a major test of Emmanuel Macron’s young presidency, and his ability to respond to attacks that are smaller in size but much more frequent than the Paris massacre and the Brussels airport bombing in 2016. Both were commando-style assaults coordinated with Islamic State leadership in Syria.
More recent attacks have been carried out by individuals radicalized on the internet for what law-enforcement officials have called lone wolf, or even stray dog, attacks.
“We are no longer in a situation like two, three years ago, when we were facing attacks led from the Iraqi-Syrian zone on our territory,” Mr. Macron said, at a European summit in Brussels on Friday. The leader said 16 people were wounded in the attack.
Lakdim declared he was a “soldier of Islamic State” as he entered the supermarket, according to French prosecutors, and the terror group claimed responsibility for the attack through a propaganda outlet.
Prosecutors were probing whether Lakdim had any accomplices, detaining one person. Lakdim had been on a watch list since 2014, but prosecutors said he didn’t raise any red flags. Interior Minister Gérard Collomb described him as a “small-time drug dealer.”
Sousian Mazen, a 38-year-old waiter who lives near the Super-U, said Lakdim lacked a steady job and rarely traveled. Lakdim grew up in the area, Mr. Mazen said, adding that friends called him grenouille, or “frog.”
European and U.S. officials say a combination of military pressure on the Islamic State caliphate in Syria and improved law enforcement has made it harder for the group to coordinate large-scale attacks on the West. Islamic State’s loss of territory bordering Turkey has deterred would-be attackers from crossing into Europe, officials say.
Instead, Islamic State has encouraged followers in Europe to carry out unsophisticated attacks at home, such as ramming crowds with vehicles. Those assaults carry fewer risks of detection than more complicated operations. In October, a man stabbed two women to death around a train station in the center of Marseille, in a suspected terrorist attack. He was shot and killed by French soldiers patrolling the area.
Friday’s assault triggered a massive police response that placed the small town of Trèbes on lockdown.
Local police arrived at the supermarket minutes after the attack began, evacuating shoppers and supermarket staff, said Mr. Collomb. One police officer persuaded the attacker to allow him to trade places with a hostage, he said. The officer had placed a call to colleagues on his cellphone, leaving it running so that authorities could eavesdrop.
At one point, authorities tried to negotiate with the assailant by bringing his mother and sisters to the scene of the attack, according to officials. When more gunfire sounded from within the store, however, tactical police decided to storm the supermarket, killing the gunman. The police officer who had traded places with the hostage was seriously injured in the gunfire.
Danielle Bassos, a 68-year-old retiree, was at home across the street from Super-U when the shooting began. She saw police in tactical gear scramble around the exterior of the store. “We thought: ‘Something’s about to happen,’ ” she said.
André Creuso, a 62-year-old retired garage owner, was returning home from his daily trip to buy bread at the Super U when he heard three or four gunshots ring out. “It was a close call,” he said. “I guess it wasn’t my turn.”
Mr. Creuso said police managed to save about 10 hostages who had taken an emergency exit from the back of the store and ended up trapped in a fenced in area. They used ladders to help them climb into his backyard.
“They needed help to climb because some could barely stand up,” Mr. Creuso said. “They were in shock.”
With helicopters turning overhead, Mr. Creuso said he had been sad to hear from police that his butcher at Super U was among the dead.
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Read more: From 2017/03/23
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