France terror suspect silent after lorry attack

Cornara: victim of Friday's attack. Picture: Getty
Cornara: victim of Friday's attack. Picture: Getty
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A DETAINED lorry driver with a history of radical Islamic ties is refusing to speak to police investigators over his implication in an explosion and beheading in south-eastern France.

Leading suspect Yassine Salhi, as well as his sister and wife, remains in custody in the city of Lyon a day after he all­egedly crashed a lorry into a US-owned chemicals warehouse and put his employer’s severed head on a factory gate.

A fourth person who had been detained was released, said Paris prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre.

Under French anti-terrorism laws, Salhi and the two women can be held for up to four days before either being released or handed preliminary charges and locked up.

Investigators have not turned up any motive or possible foreign connection, Thibault-Lecuivre said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. The severed head appeared to mimic Islamic State’s practice of beheading prisoners and displaying their heads for all to see, and came days after the militants urged attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. French authorities say Salhi had links to radicals in the past.

Separately, hundreds of people turned out in the region to honour the murdered businessman, Herve Cornara, and den­ounce the violence.

Dozens stood for a minute’s silence in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, the town near Lyon where Friday’s attack took place at an Air Products chemicals warehouse.

Several hundred also gathered outside a housing project in the town of Fontaines-sur-Saone to honour Cornara, 54, the manager of a transportation company that had employed Salhi since March. They recalled a kind, humble man who was active in the community of the Lyon suburb.

“He lived on the fifth floor, me on the fourth. He spoke with all the young people in the neighbourhood. He didn’t differentiate between (non-Muslim) French and Muslims,” said Leila Bouri, a 24-year-old cafeteria cashier. “If you ever had a problem, you would go see him.”

“When I heard this, I was shocked. It’s shameful,” she said. “I am a Muslim, but you can’t kill like this. It’s not who we are. In Islam, we’re not told to slit throats. We only slit the throats of sheep. You don’t slit the throats of people.”

The suspected killer, she added, “isn’t a Muslim in my opinion”.

US-owned Air Products makes gases and chemicals and has employees in 50 countries around the world.

Chief executive Seifi Ghasemi said: “I believe I speak for all of our Air Products family around the world in expressing our deepest sympathies to the family of the victim of this unspeakable act.”

Speaking after the attack, President Hollande said: “We have no doubt that the attack was to blow up the building. It bears the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.”

He said the attack would remind people of the attacks in and around Paris in January that killed 17 people.