France names suspect in Paris newspaper shooting

Abdelhakim Dekhar
Abdelhakim Dekhar

by Nicolas Gaudichet, Pauline Talagrand

France said Thursday the suspect arrested over this week’s shootings in Paris is a man previously jailed for his role in a “Bonnie-and-Clyde” style multiple murder that gripped the country 20 years ago.

Abdelhakim Dekhar was arrested on Wednesday after a major manhunt following a shooting at the left-wing newspaper Liberation that left an assistant photographer seriously hurt and another at the headquarters of the Societe Generale bank.

His DNA matched samples from the scenes of the attacks, officials said.

“All the evidence today points to his involvement in the events that he has been charged with,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.

Dekhar, who is in his late 40s, was convicted in 1998 of buying a gun used in an October 1994 shooting attack by student Florence Rey and her lover Audry Maupin. Three policemen, a taxi driver and Maupin himself were killed in a case that shook France.

He served four years in jail for his role in the killings, and his former lawyers have described him as “enigmatic” and “strange”.

Dekhar was arrested Wednesday evening in a vehicle in an underground parking lot in the northwestern Paris suburb of Bois-Colombes, after apparently trying to commit suicide.

Valls said that “everything appears to point to a suicide attempt”, and sources told AFP Dekhar was semi-conscious when he was found.

The head of the Paris criminal police department, Christian Flaesch, said he was in custody in a “medical environment” and was not in a fit state to speak to investigators.

Valls said investigators would need more information to be able to “understand his motivation”, adding that “one or two letters” had been found.

Investigators said the letters were “confused” and sought to “explain this act.”

In a press conference, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the letters spoke of a “fascist plot,” touched on “how suburbs are run” and accused the media of participating in the “manipulation of the masses”.

Molins said Dekhar was in detention for attempted murder and kidnapping.

The arrest came after a witness statement to police, who had on Tuesday released a new photograph of the suspect and received hundreds of calls from potential witnesses.

One of them was a man who had housed the suspect, said a source connected with the investigation.

The witness quoted the suspect as saying “I’ve made a stupid mistake.”

The shooter opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun at the offices of Liberation early on Monday, hitting a 23-year-old photographer’s assistant as he hauled gear in the lobby, then firing another blast that hit the roof before leaving within seconds.

He then crossed the city to the La Defense business district on its western edge, where he fired several shots outside the main office of the Societe Generale bank, hitting no one.

He hijacked a car and forced the driver to drop him off near the Champs Elysees in the centre of the French capital, before disappearing.

Police say he was the same man who last Friday stormed into the Paris headquarters of a 24-hour TV news channel, BFMTV, briefly threatening staff with a gun before hurrying out.

Dekhar was suspected of being the third man in the so-called Rey-Maupin affair in 1994, which shocked France.

Investigators at the time compared the young couple to the infamous American outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.

Witnesses at the trial in 1998 described him as a mentor to the couple and accused him of exploiting their youth to manipulate them.

He argued that he had been a secret agent in the pay of Algerian security services, charged with infiltrating the radical left in France in search of those acting in coordination with Islamists in Algeria.

In the early 1990s Dekhar was known to hang out at squats used by left-wing radicals and which were often under police surveillance.

Maupin died of injuries sustained during a shootout with police and Rey, a middle-class student hitherto unknown to the police, was tried and sentenced to 20 years in jail. She was released in 2009.

Dekhar was acquitted of armed assault but found guilty of procuring the weapon and sentenced to four years. He was released soon afterwards, having already served his time in pre-trial detention.

This week’s attacks set off a major manhunt and raised concerns about violence against media outlets.

The photographer, who suffered wounds to the chest and stomach, appeared to be in better condition on Wednesday.

Hospital officials said he had regained consciousness and was no longer on an artificial respirator. – AFP