PARIS: A third person has been detained in an anti-terrorism investigation in France over a knife attack south of Lyon that left two people dead, authorities said on Sunday.
The third arrest was made on Saturday night, and all three of the suspects are Sudanese, the French anti-terror prosecutor’s office said.
In televised remarks on Sunday night, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner did not confirm the assault as a terrorist attack, adding that police were still investigating it.
President Emmanuel Macron described the attack as an “odious” incident that further saddened a country already suffering an ordeal.
“My thoughts are with the victims of the Romans-sur-Isere attack — the injured, their families,” he tweeted.
Macron promised that “light will be shed” on the crime.
On Saturday, a man attacked residents with a knife in the small town of Romans-sur-Isere, injuring several people in addition to the two fatalities. Residents, who were in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, were carrying out their permitted daily food shopping.
France is currently in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. People are only allowed out to buy basic necessities or for exercise.
France has been on high alert since 2015, when Paris was hit by a series of attacks attributed to Daesh.
The suspect killed two French managers of French cafe La Charrette, in a town of 35,000 people in the southeast of France — Romans-sur-Isere.
Five people were injured in the spree, two remain in intensive care in a stable condition.
The arrested suspect, 33, was described by the mayor of the area as having obtained a political refugee status.
“Anyone who had the misfortune to find themselves in his way were attacked,” said Mayor Marie-Helene Thoraval.
Ahmed-Osman obtained refugee status in France in June 2017, according to investigators.
He was previously unknown to the police or intelligence services.
The initial investigation has “brought to light a determined, murderous course” that was targeted “to seriously disturb public order through intimidation or terror,” the prosecutor’s office said.
A source close to the probe said the alleged attacker had said that “he did not remember what happened.”
An initial interrogation was delayed as Ahmed-Osman was very agitated. The prosecutor’s office also claimed that a search of the suspect’s apartment had uncovered “handwritten documents with religious connotations.”
The people of the French town were in shock. They knew the managers of the Charrette cafe who were killed.
Arab News interviewed a Sudanese also having asylum status in France. He was a former roommate of the alleged assailant who lived with him in Grenoble in 2017 before the alleged attacker moved to Romans-sur-Isere.
Abdel Moneim, who is employed in public works currently in Lyon, told Arab News: “I met him in 2017 but I don’t know when he arrived in France from Sudan; he got the right to asylum in France and was sent by the French to live in this town.”
He said: “I stopped contact with him when we both moved but I don’t think he is connected to a terrorist network. I think he is sick and even so this does not justify the crime. I know he was sick in hospital in Grenoble. But I don’t know if he was in hospital because he was disturbed. He also was on drugs from time to time. But I know he was psychologically disturbed, I think the French police will soon find out, but I really don’t think he belongs to a terrorist network. The Sudanese are peaceful people, not violent. This was proved by our peaceful revolution.”
Asked if he knew the two other Sudanese arrested with him, he said that their names were not disclosed by the police so he did not know their identities.
Arab News contacted the French presidency to find out if more information was available on the Sudanese attacker but nothing more was disclosed on Sunday.
David Olivier Reverdy, from the National Police Alliance union, said that Ahmed-Osman asked police to kill him when they came to arrest him. The assailant first went into a tobacco shop where he attacked the owner and his wife, said Mayor Thoraval.
He then went to a butcher’s shop where he seized another knife before heading to the town center and attacking people outside a bakery.