French prosecutors have extended the detention of the parents and a close friend of Paris knife attacker Khamzat Azimov for another 24 hours as they work to establish whether he received any help in planning his stabbing spree.
Azimov, a naturalised French citizen of Chechen origin from Strasbourg, was shot dead by police on Saturday night after stabbing a 29-year-old man to death in the busy Opera district of central Paris and wounding four others in an assault claimed by the Islamic State group.
On Monday a judge ordered that Azimov’s parents remain in custody for further interrogation. They were detained on Sunday morning and under French law can be held until at least Thursday. An apartment that his parents had rented in Paris was also searched.
A source close to the inquiry said Azimov’s closest friend Abdoul Hakim A, a 20-year-old of Chechen origin from Strasbourg, had been transferred from the eastern city to the offices of the DGSI intelligence agency in Paris under high security.
He was arrested by heavily armed, masked police on Sunday at his home in Strasbourg.
A source close to the inquiry told AFP he had been under surveillance since marrying Ines Hamza, a woman from the Paris region who tried to leave for Syria in January 2017.
Police recovered seven cellphones during a search of his home but were unable to locate the main phone he used most often.
He was escorted out in handcuffs with his face covered, wearing a T-shirt that said “Defend Grozny” — the capital of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya — with a picture of a machine gun.
At the Marie Curie high school attended by both Azimov and Hakim A. in Strasbourg, home to a large number of Chechen refugees, officials said Monday that a support group had been set up for both teachers and students.
The school also noted that it has been working since 2015 with local police to alert them to any signs of radicalisation among students.
Saturday’s knife rampage followed a series of jihadist assaults that have now claimed 246 lives in France since 2015, including the Paris attacks of that year and the truck-ramming attack targeting Bastille Day revellers in Nice in 2016.
A former student in Strasbourg told AFP that Azimov and Hakim A. were in the same class during their final year, “and were very good friends, both Chechen — they were always together, both in school and outside.”
Azimov’s family later moved to Paris, where they were renting rooms in the northern 18th arrondissement.
Azimov was on both of France’s main watchlists for suspected radicals — the so-called “S file” and a more targeted File for the Prevention of Terrorist Radicalisation (FSPRT), which focuses on people judged to be terror threats — since 2016.
The government has come under fire over the fact that Azimov had been flagged as a suspected extremist, like several others behind deadly attacks including the brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo gun massacre in 2015.
But Interior Minister Gerard Collomb insisted: “Every week the S files help us to dismantle networks and stop attacks.”
Azimov became a French citizen in 2010 after his mother was naturalised.
Hundreds of fighters from Chechnya have joined Islamist militant groups in recent years, following two bloody separatist wars against Russia in the 1990s and 2000s.
But French officials reacted angrily to claims by the Russian republic’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov that France was solely to blame for Azimov’s radicalisation.
“We’re have no lessons to learn from a dictator who refuses even the beginning of any rule of law in his own country, and who knows perfectly well that thousands of Chechens are fighting alongside Daesh,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in London on Monday, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Amaq, the IS propaganda agency, released a video Sunday in which it claimed responsibility for the attack, with footage it claimed showed Azimov pledging allegiance to the jihadist group.
Witnesses said Azimov walked along stabbing people and yelling “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest).
The injured included a 34-year-old Chinese man who lives in Luxembourg and a 54-year-old woman who were seriously hurt. Two others were lightly wounded but all four are out of danger.
The 29-year-old man who was killed has been identified as Ronan, whose neighbours in Paris’s 13th arrondissement posted a letter announcing his death in the hall of their building.
Erik Gouenard, a nearby restaurant owner, described him as “discreet, quiet but always smiling. It was like a smile was part of his DNA.”