A French Muslim of Tunisian origin who drove at four soldiers outside a mosque on Friday has admitted that he wanted to kill and be killed “to appear like a martyr,” according to a prosecutor. The 29 year old was heard shouting “Allah is great!” as he carried out the attack.
An examination of the perpetrator’s home computer has revealed “jihadist propaganda images” of a type which can be “can be accessed by anyone using the Internet,” prosecutor Alex Perrin has told AFP. Yet officials are ruling out terrorism, insisting that the motivation for the attack remains unclear.
Perrin described the man as “a practicing Muslim, but not radical,” the Local has reported.
One soldier and an elderly Muslim man were injured during the attack, which took place on Friday afternoon in Valence, south east France.
Witnesses said the perpetrator, since identified as Raouf el Ayab, accelerated his Peugeot station wagon into four soldiers who were standing guard outside the local mosque between Friday prayer sessions.
As he backed up for a second run at the group the soldiers fired on the car, hitting Ayab in the arm and leg. An elderly bystander was also hit in the leg by a stray bullet.
Ayab, an unemployed resident of Lyon, had been visiting in-laws in Valence for a few days at the time of the attack. Following treatment for his injuries he was questioned in hospital on Saturday and appeared confused, but “has not materially contested” the facts as being “that in actual fact he wanted to run over the soldiers, to attack them, to possibly kill them as well,” Perrin said.
Ayab told emergency services attending the scene that “he wanted to be killed by soldiers and to kill soldiers… a way for him to appear like a martyr,” but he “stepped back” from that statement during a meeting with the examining magistrate on Sunday, saying he only wanted to “run over” the soldiers.
During his questioning Ayab had appeared “rather confused,” Perrin said, and had claimed to have targeted the soldiers “because they kill people”. Yet despite the evidence, Perrin added “The terrorism line of investigation has been ruled out for now [as] nothing points to membership of a network of any kind.”
Over the last year, however, Islamic State has been calling on Muslims in Europe to carry out lone wolf attacks of this kind via their online propaganda.
An audio message released on 21 September 2014 saw Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, an Islamic State spokesman, instruct Islamic State supporters to carry out attacks in the west – no matter how crude. Since then, there has been a marked increase in Islamic terrorism in the west including in Europe, Australia and America.
According to a recent report by the Henry Jackson Society, between July 2014 and August 2015 there were 32 IS plots in the west, taking aim at targets across 10 separate countries, and involving 58 individuals of 14 separate nationalities. A total of 13 attacks took place overall.
“In the majority of plots (a total of 24 cases, or 75 percent), there was no proof of contact with IS fighters or leaders; but the group’s ideology or propaganda was integral to each schemes’ inspiration,” author Robin Simcox said. “In terms of nationality, 38 of the 58 individuals (66 percent) were known to be citizens of the country they were targeting.”
Moreover, only one of the 32 plots involved individuals who had received training or fought in a combat zone (thought to be Syria), whereas 84 percent of the plots involved use of the internet. More specifically, in 14 of the plots, material accessed online was known to have played a role in radicalising the perpetrator, or inspiring the attack.
According to Perrin, Ayab had no criminal record, was not flagged by the security services and did not have any history of psychiatric illness. However, he “is said to have used the words ‘Allah is great,’ which shows an association to a particular religious sentiment,” Perrin added.