Paris: Police in southwest France arrested a 21-year-old man in connection with the jihadist killing of a priest in a Normandy church last month, judicial sources said on Wednesday.
The man arrested on Monday in the Toulouse area is the second to be held in connection with the murder of 85-year-old Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit in front of worshippers while he was celebrating mass in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on July 26.
A police source said he had been in contact with the cleric’s killers, Abdel Malik Petitjean and Adel Kermiche, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. The pair, both aged 19, was shot dead by police after a hostage drama in which a worshipper was seriously wounded.
The grisly attack – the first committed in the name of IS against a church in the West – came less than two weeks after a Tunisian ploughed a 19-tonne truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 85 people and wounding more than 300.
A cousin of Petitjean named as Farid K. was remanded in custody on July 31 on charges of “criminal association in connection with terrorism”. The public prosecutor said the 30-year-old “was fully aware of his cousin’s imminent violent action, even if he did not know the precise place or day.” Hamel’s killing, which follows a string of attacks in France over the past 18 months, has raised questions about security failures.
Kermiche, who lived near the church, wore an electronic tag and was allowed to leave home on weekday mornings under his house arrest terms. He met Petitjean through the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Investigators have questioned several people over the killers’ links with groups recruiting for jihad in Syria.
A 20-year-old man has been charged with trying to travel to Syria with Petitjean in June.