Man with meat cleaver, fake suicide belt killed by police on Charlie Hebdo anniversary

PARIS — French police shot dead a man wielding a meat cleaver after he tried to enter a police station on Thursday, the anniversary of militant attacks in Paris, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) and wearing what turned out to be a fake suicide belt.

The Paris prosecutor said the man had also been carrying a mobile phone and sheet of paper bearing the Islamic State flag and claims of responsibility by the militant group written in Arabic. He has yet to be named, but some French media reports said he had already been identified by investigators.

The incident took place exactly one year after deadly Islamist militant attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in the French capital and also just minutes after President Francois Hollande had given a speech in an another part of Paris to mark the anniversary.

In his statement, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said a terrorism inquiry had been opened into the incident, which occurred in the 18th district of the capital, an area Islamic State said it had planned to strike in November.

“(The man) shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and had wires protruding from his clothes. That’s why the police officer opened fire,” said a police official.

French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet later said the suicide belt the man was wearing had proved to be fake.

France has been on high alert ever since the shootings last January at the Charlie Hebdo office and at a Jewish supermarket in which 17 people died over three days.

Security concerns were further heightened in November, when 130 people were killed in the capital in coordinated shootings and suicide bombings that targeted a music hall, bars and restaurants and a soccer stadium.

Islamic State, the militant group that controls swathes of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks. Several of the militants involved in those attacks were, like last January’s killers, French-born.

Hollande vows more help for police

Journalist Anna Polonyi, who could see the outside of the police station from the window of her flat, posted photos on social media that showed what appeared to be a bomb-disposal robot beside the body of the man, who was wearing blue jeans and a gray coat.

Polonyi told Reuters her sister, in the flat with her, had seen the incident happen. She said the police shouted at the man and that he then started running toward them before they shot him.

In his speech, Hollande promised to equip police better to prevent further militant attacks. He also defended draconian security measures implemented since November that his Socialist government had once shunned.

Last year’s attacks have boosted the popularity of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front party ahead of a presidential election due in 2017.

“Terrorism has not stopped posing a threat to our country,” said Hollande.

Since the November attacks, Paris has increased its efforts at striking jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, becoming the second largest contributor to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

Security measures at home have included a three-month state of emergency during which the police have launched hundreds of raids on homes, mosques, restaurants and hotels.

Separately on Thursday, a French court sentenced a French-born Islamist militant in absentia to 15 years in jail for his role in recruiting jihadists to fight for the group in Syria in 2013.

The whereabouts of Salim Benghalem, 35, who is believed to have had links to the perpetrators of both series of Paris attacks, remain unknown. He is suspected of being an Islamic State executioner and of having led a group of French-speaking jihadis in Raqqa, Syria.

The French court sentenced six other defendants who attended Thursday’s hearing to jail terms of between six and nine years for being part of the recruitment network.

It was the first such court case involving militant Islamists in France since the November killings.

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