PARIS — The French police commander was just coming home to his partner and their 3-year-old son in the Paris bedroom community of Magnanville. Jovial and well-liked in Les Mureaux’s police station on the outskirts of the French capital, he had been—like all members of the French police these days—under considerable strain. Even with 90,000 cops, soldiers and other security forces deployed in the country, law enforcement has been stretched thin by floods, strikes, the Euro 16 soccer championship, hooligan riots, and the now ever-present threat of jihadist violence.
Then that murderous jihadist rage came after the commander with a vengeance, as a lone attacker stabbed him to death outside his house.
A French special weapons and tactics unit (RAID) killed the assailant, but found inside the house the commander’s slaughtered partner, who worked as a secretary in another police station, and her little boy, who was still alive, physically unhurt.
The child had seen it all. We know that, because the killer live-streamed the aftermath of the slaughter on Facebook.
Authorities have not released the names of the woman and child, but the French press has identified the commander as Jean-Baptise Salvaing, 42.
The murderer has been identified as Larossi Abballa, 25, recently released from prison where he was serving time for involvement with a jihadist network that aimed to send French would-be fighters to Pakistan for training.
French sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast that Abballa had a list of potential targets that included scholars, journalists, and others with high profiles, particularly on television.
This was “unquestionably a terrorist act,” French President François Hollande told the nation Tuesday morning: the cowardly murder of a couple who had just been doing their jobs protecting the community. “France is facing a terrorist threat of very great significance,” said Hollande.
The same might be said of the whole world at this point.
But there are differences among the terrorists that can be important when developing strategies to confront them, contain their threat, and eventually eliminate them.
French scholar Gilles Kepel, an expert on jihadist movements, notes some functional distinctions between the mass killing carried out by Omar Mateen in Orlando and the horrific cop killing here last night.
Obviously the most striking is the extent of the carnage in Orlando, with more than 100 dead and injured—killed by a man with a military-grade assault rifle and pistol purchased legally a few days earlier. In France, where some terrorists have gotten assault rifles on the black market, but with much more difficulty, this one apparently could not get a gun. Instead, he used a knife and took two victims.
Kepel points out the Amaq claim about the attack in France came much more quickly, suggesting the group was aware of the event very early on, conceivably even in the planning stage.
In the Orlando case, Mateen specifically targeted an LGBT celebration, which is in line with the ISIS loathing for and ferocious persecution of homosexuals and, unfortunately, with pronouncements declaring death sentences for homosexuals by various Muslim scholars not affiliated with the jihadists.
Mateen’s own personal obsessions and hatreds vis-a-vis homosexuals may have played a role, with some speculation in the American and international press that he was unable to cope with his own homosexual inclinations or identity. The Orlando Sentinel cites four different patrons of the Pulse nightclub where the attack took place who said they had seen him in there drinking alone in the past.
“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” one of those patrons, named Ty Smith, told the Sentinel. “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times… He told us he had a wife and child.”
Whether Mateen was reconnoitering, or interested in finding sexual partners, or both, probably will remain an open question.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said Monday there is as yet no sign Mateen, who had earlier been on an FBI watch list, was acting under orders from ISIS when he attacked the Pulse nightclub, and his affiliations seemed confused.
In the last of three talks with the 911 operator during the Orlando slaughter, Mateen claimed he pledged allegiance to ISIS, and was inspired by the Boston Marathon bombers (not affiliated with ISIS), as well as by Moner AbuSalha, a Floridian who blew himself up in Syria with the al Nusra Front, which is an al Qaeda affiliate in a bitter factional war with ISIS.
About Abballa, the killer here in France, there is less confusion. He was convicted in 2013 along with six other would-be jihadists looking to travel abroad as early as 2011. At the time, the group that spawned ISIS was still affiliated with al Qaeda. In prison, as has happened many times before in France and elsewhere, Abballa was further radicalized and moved toward the growing cult of the so-called Islamic State.
“He was socialized in jail, he had contacts, and he decided to do this on his own,” Kepel, the author of Terreur dan l’hexagone, told The Daily Beast. According to Kepel, Abballa appears to have plotted his murder well in advance, including preparation of social media.
French jihad-watcher David Thomson of Radio France International, who saw Abballa’s Facebook posts before they were taken down, reports that he managed to put up photographs of his dead victims on his Facebook page as well as a 13-minute video rant using the Facebook Live application, before he was killed. The video has since be deactivated.
As Thomson tweeted, the assassin “called for the killing of police, prison guards, journalists, rappers, and cited several names.”
At one point, the just-orphaned three-year-old is visible behind Abballa on a sofa. “I still don’t know what I’m going to do with him,” says the killer, clearly proud of himself.
“I’ve given a favorable answer to Sheikh Adnani,” Abballa goes on, citing the call by ISIS number two, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, for sympathizers to murder whatever targets are convenient. “Europe will be a cemetery,” Abballa said in the video he made before RAID stormed the house and blew him away.