PARIS // France was on its highest security alert on Tuesday after a man who pledged loyalty to ISIL stabbed a police officer and his wife to death at their home in a Paris suburb.
The attacker, Larossi Abballa, 25, who was killed by police after a three-hour stand-off, had a list of other targets that included entertainers, journalists, police officers and public officials.
The French president Francois Hollande urged heightened security and vigilance after what he said was “incontestably a terrorist act”.
Mr Hollande warned that France faced a threat “of a very large scale”. He said he wanted additional security efforts to be deployed and vigilance to be increased to “its highest level”.
France’s security services are already stretched to the limit. Nerves are still raw after ISIL attacks in November killed 130 people, 90,000 security forces have been deployed to protect the estimated 2.5 million football fans from across Europe who are in France for the European Championship, and there were street demonstrations across the country on Tuesday in protest at new labour laws.
Protesters in Paris threw projectiles at police officers, who responded with tear gas, and 21 people were arrested. Rail workers, taxi drivers and Air France pilots went on strike and the Eiffel Tower was closed after the operators said they could not guarantee public safety.
But it was the double murder in the suburb of Magnanville, about 55 kilometres west of Paris, that shocked France
The killer stabbed Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42, a police commander in the Paris suburb of Les Mureaux, outside his home late on Monday night.
He then went inside and took Salvaing’s wife and three-year-old son hostage. He killed the woman, who was a police administrator in the suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie, but did not harm the boy.
Abballa recorded video footage inside the house of the victims as security forces closed in, and posted it on Facebook. “I just killed a police officer and his wife,” he says in the video. “The police are currently surrounding me.”
Abballa was from Mantes-la-Jolie and was sentenced to three years in prison in 2013 for recruiting men to fight in Pakistan.
Police raided his apartment early on Tuesday. “He was a neighbourhood kid,” said a neighbour, Henriette Yenge. “I was surprised it was him. It’s sad to see things like that.”
Hours before the killing, Abballa went to his local mosque and prayed for so long that mosque staff had to ask him to leave. Imam Mohammed Droussi said Abballa was reading the Quran for a long time, and was the last one to go.
“I took the key and I said, ‘We are closing’,” Mr Droussi said.
The imam said he was concerned about radicalisation, and the mosque often addressed the issue, to “ask the youth to stay on the right path”.
The French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Tuesday visited the police station in Les Mureaux where Salvaing worked. He said more than 100 people seen as potential threats had been arrested in France this year, some in recent weeks.
The deaths shook police officers, and Mr Cazeneuve said they would be allowed to take their service weapons home.
“Today every police officer is a target,” said Yves Lefebvre of the police trade union Unite SGP Police-FO. He said attackers were “professionalising” and could now find police in their homes.
* Associated Press