French Beheading Suspect Confesses To Murder, Mystery Of Selfie With Severed Head Still Unsolved

French police and firefighters gather at the entrance of the Air Products company. AFP PHO

French media is reporting that Yassin Salhi, the driver who decapitated his boss before before ramming a truck into the American-owned Air Products factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier near Lyon, has confessed to the murder. French authorities are still calling it a terrorist attack, however there is now some doubt as to his exact motives.

French media is reporting that during questioning he was “confused” as to the reasons for his attack, citing personal problems linked to family issues and his job. French television news channel iTele has reported Salhi told police he wanted to kill himself but as a “coup médiatique maquillé en un acte terroriste” – a stunt disguised as a terrorist act. The news channel said Salhi told police he had acted alone.

Reuters reports a source close to the investigation saying:

“We don’t know whether we’re dealing with a fundamentalist who flipped or a real terrorist. Investigators are wondering whether this isn’t just a simple criminal act.”

The confusion arises because Salhi, French born but of Moroccan and Algerian descent, was one of thousands of hardliners who caught French authorities’ attention due to his past involvement radical Islamists. The Guardian reports that a decade ago, he is known to have had contact with a Muslim convert, Frederic Jean Salvi, known as “Ali”, who was suspected of preparing attacks in Indonesia with al-Qaida militants.

Sahli was then placed under “discreet” police surveillance in 2006 because of that contact but the French Interior Ministry says it ended in 2008 because he “was not known to be in contact with terrorist actors”. The Guardian also says Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve said Salhi had also been investigated for links to radical Salafists in Lyon, but was not known to have participated in terrorist activities and did not have a criminal record.

Further confusion arises because both the style of attack – the severed head placed on display near two flags bearing the Muslim profession of faith – and the timing days after Islamic State urged attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, suggest Islamist involvement.

Although the Paris prosecutor’s office said investigators had not found any foreign connection police have established Salhi used the instant messaging service Whatsapp to send a selfie of him posing with the severed head. It went to a Canadian telephone number and the involvement of Canadian authorities in the case has been confirmed, but that may be a ‘relay number’ with the intended recipient being anywhere in the world. Although the recipient’s identity is yet to be confirmed, for now authorities are dismissing the idea the recipient is in Syria.

Despite doubts as to motive, France’s Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, today told iTele the world was engaged in a “war against terrorism”, a move welcomed by Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right opposition party, Les Républicains. Predicting that by the end of 2015 the number of Europeans fighting for Islamic State could double to 10,000 he continued:

“We cannot lose this war because it’s fundamentally a war of civilisation. It’s our society, our civilisation that we are defending.”

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