One of the two attackers who were shot dead after taking hostages and killing a priest at a Catholic church in Normandy, France, on Tuesday had twice been released from prison after attempting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. One of the hostages said the attackers made her husband film as they slit the priest’s throat.
The Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, identified one of the attackers as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, who grew up in the town where the church is located: Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen. According to the Associated Press, Kermiche was detained outside of France twice last year—once in Germany, and once in Turkey—trying to travel to Syria using family members’ identity documents. He received preliminary terrorism charges and was ordered to wear a tracking bracelet.
His mother, a professor, spoke to a Geneva newspaper in May 2015, shortly after her son had been apprehended attempting to enter Syria for the second time, about her efforts to keep her son out of the grasp of jihadis.
“He said that [Muslims] couldn’t exercise their religion peacefully in France,” his mother said. “He spoke with words that didn’t belong to him. He was under a spell, like a cult.”
She said authorities refused her request to give him an electronic bracelet after he ran away to Syria the first time. “Fortunately we managed to catch him in time, twice. If he had made it to Syria, I would have written off my son. I want to know who messed up my kid. “We don’t know where to turn for help.”
Kermiche had been released over prosecutors’ protests, having convinced the judge that he wanted “to get back my life, to see my friends, to get married.” The tracking bracelet turned off four hours every day, and he was only permitted to leave his house between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm. It was during this window that he—and the other attacker, who has not yet been identified—stormed the church.
Classmates who knew Kermiche described him as “easily influenced” and a “buffoon.” According to the Guardian, one told RTL radio that he wasn’t surprised to learn Kermiche had been involved in the church attack: “I wasn’t surprised. He talked about it all the time. He talked about Islam, the things like this he was going to do. He talked about the Qur’an and Mecca and he told me ‘I’m going to attack a church’. He said this two months ago on leaving the mosque. On my mother’s life I didn’t believe him.”