French church attacker had tried to reach Syria, was monitored

PARIS (Reuters) - One of the two knife-wielding men who attacked a church in France on Tuesday has been named as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, who was under close surveillance after two failed attempts to reach Syria last year, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said.

Kermiche and the second attacker, who remains unidentified, were killed by police as they came out of the church in Kermiche’s hometown in Normandy after taking hostages and fatally slitting the throat of an elderly priest.

The Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic State militant group, said two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack.

After Kermiche’s last attempt to reach Syria in May 2015, he was detained until March, when he was released despite an appeal by Paris prosecutors that was rejected.

However, he was forced to wear an electronic tag so police could track his whereabouts and was allowed to leave his home only for a few hours a day, prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference.

After his detention in France, he turned a deaf ear to acquaintances who tried to “reason with him”, said a 18-year-old former schoolmate named Redwan who knew Kermiche well.

“Each time we said something to him he would answer with a verse from the Koran,” Redwan said.

“He would tell us that France is a country of unbelievers and we shouldn’t live here. He would try to indoctrinate us, but we didn’t care and wouldn’t take him seriously,” he added.

A neighbor described Kermiche as a loner. “His family is clean, they’re nothing like him,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified.

The fact that Kermiche was under tight surveillance and the appeal to keep him in custody was rejected is likely to reignite criticism of the government for not doing enough on security.

The outcry over shaky security intensified after the Bastille Day attack in Nice this month that left 84 dead and was also claimed by Islamic State.

Kermiche’s ex-schoolmate said he had been a normal teenager until last year, when he became increasingly radicalized, asked people to call him Abou Adam and tried to leave for Syria, where Islamist militants are fighting in its civil war.

The militant attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris in January 2015 captivated Kermiche in particular, his mother told Swiss newspaper La Tribune de Geneve last year.

He first tried to reach Syria in March 2015, travelling on his brother’s identity card, but was stopped in Germany after a family member alerted authorities that he was missing, Molins said.

He tried again in May 2015 using a cousin’s identity card, traveling first to Switzerland and then Turkey, but he was stopped and sent back to first to Switzerland and then to France on an arrest warrant, according to Molins.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas in Paris and; Noemie Olive in Saint Etienne du Rouvray; editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich