France links beheading, gas plant attack to Islamic State
French investigators on Tuesday handed preliminary murder and terrorism charges to a man accused of beheading his boss at a French gas factory and suspected of ties to Islamic State extremists.
Yassin Salhi was handed a long list of charges Tuesday and ordered to remain in custody, Paris prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said. Preliminary charges under French law mean that investigators have a strong reason to suspect involvement in a crime, and give them more time for deeper investigation before deciding whether to send the case to trial.
Salhi was arrested after the attack Friday in southeast France, which also prompted an explosion and two light injuries — and put the country back on high alert after deadly extremist attacks in January.
According to his lawyer, Salhi said he was acting purely for personal reasons after being reprimanded by his employer.
With a long-bladed knife and a gun in hand — as well as two brand new flags emblazoned with the Muslim declaration of faith, Salhi tricked his boss into getting into the van, knocked him unconscious and strangled him, Molins said.
About 500 meters (a quarter-mile) before reaching the plant, he decapitated his victim, and then almost immediately sent two photos of the remains to a friend in Syria: One was a selfie, and the other included an image of the severed head placed carefully on the torso.
Then Salhi, a truck driver with a history of radical Islamic ties dating back to 2003, drove into the plant filled with flammable gas canisters, Molins said.
When he was tackled by firefighters responding to the explosion and blaze, he cried out Allahu akbar, the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” Molins said.
In a subsequent message, the friend, a Frenchman identified as Sebastien Younes who has been in Syria since November, indicated he was in contact with Islamic State higher-ups about the images.
“Yassin Salhi beheaded his victim before hanging his head to the factory fence in an effort to give maximum publicity to his act — he admitted to it during his interrogation,” Molins said.
“This bears the trademark of the Islamic State group’s propaganda which regularly calls for terrorist attacks to be carried out in France and more specifically, to slit unbelievers’ throats.”
Salhi was seized by firefighters at the Air Products chemicals warehouse. According to Molins, Salhi said he neither remembers the beheading nor sending any photos.
“According to him, his motive was only personal and not terrorist. One does not exclude the other,” Molins said.
Molins opened a formal terrorism investigation, including into his ties with Younes.
Molins said investigators recovered a message in which Younes appeared to be claiming responsibility for inspiring his friend.
Air Products officials have said Salhi made regular deliveries to the site in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, and had never caused problems in the past.
The Friday attack came days after Islamic State militants urged followers to strike during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
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