Monday’s assault in a small town northwest of Paris is the first deadly strike in France since the coordinated attacks in the capital by an Islamic State cell in November, and comes with the country on high alert as it hosts the Euro 2016 football championship.
The assailant, who was killed in an operation by elite police to end a standoff at the policeman’s house in Magnanville, was identified as Larossi Abballa, 25, from the nearby suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie.
Two people with links to Abballa have been arrested, police sources said.
Abballa stabbed the unnamed 42-year-old policeman repeatedly outside his home before holing up inside with the policeman’s 36-year-old partner and their three-year-old son, investigators said.
The woman was found dead with knife wounds to her neck while the toddler was found “in shock but unharmed,” a police source said.
Witnesses told investigators the man shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) as he knifed his victim.
Hollande condemned the “cowardly” killings, which follow several attacks on the army and police in the past two years, including a number of stabbings by so-called lone wolf operatives.
Monday’s stabbings also come two days after a gunman claiming to be acting in the name of IS shot dead 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Sunday in the worst mass shooting in US history.
– Links to jihadist networks -Abballa was known to French intelligence as having been radicalised.
In 2013, he was sentenced to three years in prison, including six months suspended, over his role in a jihadist group with links to Pakistan.
He was also part of a more recent investigation into a network recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria, police sources said, without detailing his involvement.
The IS-linked Amaq News Agency said an “Islamic State fighter” was behind the attack, according to the US-based SITE intelligence group.
“It’s unquestionably a terrorist act,” Hollande said after a security meeting Tuesday with top ministers, saying France was still “facing a very significant terrorist threat”.
Up to 90,000 police and private security guards have been deployed to protect Euro 2016, with a particular focus on the stadiums in the nine host cities, designated fan zones and tourist attractions.
“Everyone here remembers what happened in 2015,” Hollande said, referring to the November onslaught that killed 130 people and three days of jihadist strikes in January 2015 that targeted satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, police and a Jewish supermarket in Paris and left 17 dead.
– Police repeatedly targeted -The slain policeman was based at a station in Les Mureaux near Magnanville. His partner had an administrative job at a police station in Mantes-la-Jolie.
Their deaths are the first police fatalities in a jihadist attack since the January 2015 killings that left three officers dead, including a young female officer who was shot dead in her car.
A month later, three soldiers protecting a Jewish community centre in the French Riviera city of Nice were attacked by a man with a knife.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday’s killings showed the gravity of the threat to security forces “who are paying a heavy price to ensure the safety of the French”.
Hollande said the threat level was “very high everywhere and we are required therefore to mobilise significant resources, both in the police and in intelligence services.”
The attack in Magnanville began at around 9 pm (1900 GMT) on Monday.
Abballa first fell upon the officer, who was in plainclothes, stabbing him repeatedly outside his home.
Police moved in to evacuate residents, block off roads and launch negotiations with the suspect, who then holed up inside with the mother and toddler.
Loud blasts and shots were later heard around midnight as elite RAID police launched an assault after the dialogue broke down.
Sources close to the investigation said Abballa claimed allegiance to IS during the negotiations.
“Islamic State fighter kills deputy chief of the police station in the city of Les Mureaux and his wife with blade weapons near #Paris,” the Amaq agency was quoted by SITE as saying.
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Ring of Fire as performed by Johnny Cash was actually written by June Carter.