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Second Normandy church attacker identified

July 28, 2016

Police and judicial sources in France say they have identified the second of two men who attacked a French church. He was known to security authorities as a potential Islamist militant.

Frankreich Geiselnahme Polizei in Rouen
Image: Reuters/P. Rossignol

The 19-year-old Frenchman was named as Abdel-Malik Nabil Petit Jean on Thursday, two days after the attack in which he and Adel Kermiche entered the church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during morning Mass, took hostages and killed the elderly priest.

Petit Jean was identified by DNA analysis because his face was disfigured as he was shot by police. Prosecutors said he was born in eastern France. Kermiche was from Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

The self-styled "Islamic State" group published a video Wednesday which allegedly showed the two church attackers holding hands and pledging allegiance to the terror group's leader. In it, Kermiche called himself Abu Jaleel al-Hanafi, and said Petit Jean was called Ibn Omar.

Sought by security forces

According to reports citing unnamed sources, security services had opened a special file on Petit Jean in late June for becoming radicalized. Broadcaster France Info reported that he had attempted to travel to Syria.

French media reported that the man also appeared to be a suspect police were looking for in relation to a tipoff that someone was planning an attack. Security forces had circulated a photo, which was now believed to be of Petit Jean.

According to a judicial source, at lease three people close to Petit Jean have been detained in relation to the investigation.

Authorities in France are facing tough questions as details emerge showing the teenagers were on the radar of anti-terrorism authorities. Kermiche had been awaiting trial on terror charges and was fitted with an electronic tag which allowed him to leave the house only at specified times.

France is under a state of emergency following a string of attacks claimed by Islamist extremists in the past 18 months.

se/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)