A man who fatally stabbed two women outside the main train station in Marseille, France, had been detained on suspicion of shoplifting and released the day before the attack, officials said Monday.
French authorities are studying the suspect's cellphone and working to determine his true identity and whether he had direct links to the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for Sunday's stabbing. The suspect was killed by soldiers immediately after the attack, the latest of several targeting France.
The suspect was identified by his fingerprints, which matched those taken during seven previous incidents registered by police since 2005, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.
The suspect didn't have any past convictions in France, Molins said. The man's most recent arrest occurred in the Lyon area Friday — just two days before the train station stabbing.
The man was held overnight on suspicion of shoplifting, then released Saturday and the charges dropped, Molins said. He said that local authorities had no reason to hold him further based on the ID he gave them — a Tunisian passport.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, apparently not satisfied with the explanation, on Monday ordered a probe of the circumstances that led police to free the man, who police say attacked and killed the young women a day later. The report is due by week's end, a ministry statement said.
While being held in Lyon, the man told police that he did odd jobs, used hard drugs and was divorced, according to Molins, the prosecutor. It's not clear if the attacker had any connection to the victims — two cousins who had met for a birthday celebration.
Some witnesses reported hearing the suspect shout “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great” — and Molins said that's one of the reasons prosecutors opened a terrorism investigation. But no firm evidence has surfaced linking the man to Islamic extremism.
The suspect was found with two knives and a phone, but no identity papers, according to Molins.
The small town of Eguilles in southern France held a memorial gathering Monday evening for the victims, a medical student from Eguilles, identified as 20-year-old Mauranne, and her cousin, Laura. Villagers gathered to sign a book of condolences. Officials have withheld the young women's last names.
Marseille's Saint Charles station reopened Monday under heavy security. Last month, four American college students were attacked with acid at the same station by a woman authorities said was suffering from mental illness.