Paris gunman who targeted media was London resident

Abdelhakim Dekhar in 1994 and in CCTV footage this week
Abdelhakim Dekhar in 1994 and in CCTV footage this week
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THE suspect in a shooting at a French newspaper office and three other armed attacks had written a “confused” letter criticising media manipulation and capitalism and making vague reference to Syria.

Abdelhakim Dekhar, 48, is now in custody in a Paris hospital after police captured him late on Wednesday night, ending a two-day manhunt. Police found him in a “semi-conscious state” after he apparently tried to kill himself with an overdose of a proprietary drug, said prosecutor François Molins.

The prosecutor said Dekhar, who had previously lived in London, was detained on suspicion of attempted murder and kidnapping in four incidents.

He allegedly shot an assistant photographer at French daily newpaper, Libération on Monday. He is said to have threatened staff with a shotgun at the BFM-TV network last week. And he is alleged to have fired shots at the headquarters of French bank Société Générale and taken a driver hostage at gunpoint before forcing him to drive from a western suburb in to central Paris.

Dekhar came to police attention in 1994 as part of an anarchist plot to cause chaos in Paris that culminated in a shoot-out.

The so-called Rey-Maupin affair was named after a young couple with links to anarchist groups who bungled an attempt to steal arms from policemen and then hijacked a taxi in 1994.

In the subsequent chase and gunfight, three policemen and the taxi driver were killed, as well as Audry Maupin. His girlfriend, Florence Rey, survived and was released from prison in 2009.

The motive for the recent attacks remains unknown.

Police found Dekhar in an underground car park after a tip-off. Police had publicly distributed video surveillance images of him.

Investigators found two letters by Dekhar, Mr Molins said. One appeared to be a suicide note and the other was a “rather confused” letter evoking “fascist plots.”

Mr Molins said the second letter accused the media of “participating in the manipulation of the masses, journalists are paid to make the citizens swallow lies with a little spoon”.

The letter also criticises capitalism and state neglect of suburban housing schemes, which the letter calls “an enterprise of dehumanisation of a population forgotten by the capitalist elite”. Such schemes, home to many disillusioned and jobless people with roots in the former French colonies in Africa, erupted in riots in 2005, and tensions between youth and police continue to see sporadic violence.

The letter included a vague reference to Syria, according to prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre.

Mr Molins said psychiatrists who examined Dekhar in the 1990s described him as having “storytelling tendencies” though “no specific anomaly in the psychiatric sense”.

The person who turned Dekhar in said that they had met while working in a restaurant together in London 13 years ago, Mr Molins said. A lawyer who represented Dekhar in his 1990s trial, Emmanuelle Hauser-Phelizon, described him yesterday as a reticent person with a nice family who claimed to work for the French and Algerian secret services.

“He never seemed to me a dangerous or violent person. He was particular, with a particular personality,” she said. “He is someone who maybe needed to have some recognition.”

“He wasn’t an extremist, either from the Left or from the Right,” she said. “He was fragile.”

The shooting prompted expressions of concern about attacks on the media. Security was tightened at media offices and on the busy Champs-Élysées in central Paris.

The publisher of Libération, Nicolas Demorand, wrote a commentary on Tuesday promising to continue to operate.

“Opening fire in a newspaper is an attack on the lives of men and women who are only doing their jobs. And on an idea, a set of values, which we call the Republic,” he said.

The gunshot victim is said to have improved in hospital, is now conscious and no longer needs an artificial respirator.