Islamists Attack US Gas Company in France, Leave Severed Head on Fence

PHOTO: French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015.
Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

A factory in France owned by Pennsylvania-based industrial gas company Air Products has been attacked by Islamist terrorists, reportedly waving a flag covered in Arabic writing, which eyewitnesses say was the ISIS flag. The attackers detonated explosive devices inside the factory, injuring at least ten people.

They are also said to have left a severed head with Arabic writing on the forehead mounted on the factory fence, evidently from a man they killed and beheaded at the security gate. The body of the decapitated man has been recovered by police.

There were apparently two jihadis involved in the operation.  French media sources collated by Fox News report one of them is in custody, while the other was killed – by a firefighter, according to the UK Guardian.  That will be an interesting story to hear in full, if the report checks out.

The attack began shortly before 10:00 AM local time, when one of the jihadis “walked into the company’s offices saying he was a member of ISIS and carrying one of the terror group’s flags,” according to Fox News. “After beheading a man at the company’s entrance, he went into the building and set off several gas canisters.”

CNN adds that the attackers gained access to the factory grounds by driving a vehicle “at high speed into the factory site and into a building housing gas canisters.” There are reports that this vehicle was seen driving around the factory earlier in the morning, perhaps conducting reconnaissance before the attack.

According to other French sources cited by Business Insider, the prime suspect is a man in his 30s who “was known to intelligence agencies.” The BBC adds that the authorities have been watching this individual since 2006. The UK Telegraph identifies him as Yacine Sali, and says he has a “link” to the strict Salafist Islamic movement. He is reportedly refusing to cooperate with the police.

French police have left no doubt they are treating this as a terrorist attack. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is said to be rushing to the scene. CNN reports French president Francois Hollande, currently in Brussels for a European Union summit, giving a televised statement in which he called the incident “a pure terrorist attack” and said a “message” from the terrorists had been left with the severed head. It’s unclear if this is a reference to the writing on the victim’s forehead, or if some additional document was left along with it.

Among the evidence that the attack was linked to ISIS is some Twitter chatter to that effect from ISIS supporters. From all accounts, the flags waved by the terrorist and left near the severed head sound like the ISIS banner. However, at the time of this writing, there has not been a definitive statement from the authorities that the attackers were either agents of ISIS or “lone wolves” responding to the terror state’s call for attacks around the Western world.

“We can confirm that an incident occurred at our facility in L’Isle-d’Abeau, France this morning,” said a statement from Air Products relayed by the Guardian. “Our priority at this stage is to take care of our employees, who have been evacuated from the site and all accounted for. Emergency services are on site and have contained the situation. The site is secure. Our crisis and emergency response teams have been activated and are working closely with all relevant authorities.”

Update, 9:00 AM EST: According to AFP, the decapitated victim of the attack was a local businessman.

The BBC gathered reactions from French officials, including Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who declared, “Islamist terrorism has hit France again.”  Valls has ordered security tightened at “sensitive areas” across the country.  Other statements collected by the BBC include:

Jean-Jack Queyranne, President of the Rhône -Alpes Region: “The savagery struck again in Isère. We must unite our ranks to face with firmness and vigilance to fight terror.”

Christophe Boudot, Lyon councillor: “They want to create a climate of psychosis, we must respond with great firmness.”

Laurent Wauquiez, former French Secretary of State for European Affairs: “The State must protect the citizens against the terrorist threat that hit. The horror must not give in to fear.”

German Foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier says his country stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with France in the defence of our free society against the blind hatred of terror”.he horror must not give in to fear.”

National Front president Marine Le Pen, whose party is now the third-largest in France, said: “Big declarations must now stop. The marches, slogans and emotional speech must now give way to action. Nothing has been done to stop Islamic fundamentalism for years. Our borders must be restored. All foreigners suspected of Islamic fundamentalism should be as soon expelled from the country.”

The BBC also notes that ISIS supporters on social media are portraying this attack as one of the “setbacks and surprises” promised by an Islamic State spokesman in a threat to President Obama recently.  The ISIS fan club also sees today’s attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait as linked to the French atrocity.