French police question Notre Dame attacker

Paris (AFP) - French police on Wednesday began questioning the Algerian who attacked a policeman outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris with a hammer before being shot and wounded by another officer.

The 40-year-old man had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, it emerged earlier Wednesday, but his family voiced shock and officials said he was not known to intelligence services.

The injured police officer meanwhile described how he thought he was going to die as he was assaulted in front of the world-famous landmark, before one of his colleagues shot the assailant.

"I see a face and I say to myself, this guy is determined, and if my colleague doesn't react, I'm going to leave my life here," said the 22-year-old officer, who sustained minor neck injuries and left hospital a day after Tuesday's attack.

Video of the incident shows the Algerian suspect lunge at the officer with a hammer, in the middle of a square full of tourists in the shadow of the famous cathedral frontage.

Documents found on the attacker identified him as Farid I., who enrolled for a doctorate programme in media studies at Metz University in eastern France in 2014.

Farid I., who was shot in the thigh during the incident outside Notre Dame, "has begun to be interviewed by investigators," at the hospital where he is under armed guard, a source close to the enquiry said. Previous reports stated he had been shot in the chest.

"For the time being he is responding to questioning," the source added.

- Top tourist attraction -

The attack, which came with France on high alert after jihadists killed eight people in London on Saturday, triggered panic at one of the country's top visitor attractions. Around 1,000 people were in the cathedral at the time.

The video in which the man pledges allegiance to IS was found by police who searched the student apartment he was renting in Cergy, a suburb of the French capital, the source said.

The attacker, who was also carrying kitchen knives, shouted "this is for Syria," during the assault, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on Tuesday.

France is part of the US-led international coalition fighting IS and has carried out air strikes against militants in Syria.

The suspect's thesis director said that he had not seen the man since November but that he had showed "no outward sign of an excessive adherence to Islam."

"When I knew him, he had a pro-Western, pro-democratic outlook," Arnaud Mercier told BFMTV.

From 2009 to 2011, Farid I. studied in Sweden at the prestigious Uppsala University near Stockholm where he obtained a journalism degree.

The Swedish tabloid Expressen reported that he had been married to a Swedish woman until 2005 but had left the country in 2013.

On his Linkedin page, he claims to have worked for the Algerian newspaper El Watan, which is known for its anti-Islamist stance.

- 'Must be a mistake' -

In Algeria, the man's nephew Sofiane I. said it was hard to believe his relative had carried out the attack.

"At first we thought there must have been a mistake on the person's identity. The man they're talking about doesn't correspond to the person we know," he said on the phone from Bejaia, about 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Algiers.

"Farid was a progressive. Nothing to do with any extremist movement. He just prayed like everyone else," the nephew said.

In Paris, government spokesman Christophe Castaner said he had "shown no signs of radicalisation", adding that everything suggested it was an "isolated act."

- Renewed state of emergency -

Tuesday's incident came three days after extremists used a van and knives to crush to kill eight people enjoying a night out in London, three of them French.

France is still under a state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 attacks in Paris, when Islamic State jihadists killed 130 people in a night of carnage at venues across the city.

The last fatal attack in France dates from April 20, when a policeman was shot dead on Paris's prestigious Champs-Elysees avenue, three days before the first round of the presidential election.

Previous major attacks targeted the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015 and in November that year, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked venues around Paris including the Bataclan concert hall, killing 130 people in all.

Then in July last year, a radicalised Tunisian man drove a lorry at high speed through a Bastille Day fireworks display on the Nice waterfront, massacring 86 people.

Since then there have been a series of smaller attacks, often targeting security forces.

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