One of the assailants who slit the throat of an elderly French priest had dreamed of going to Syria and threatened to attack churches -- but seldom visited his local mosque, neighbours said.
Adel Kermiche, 19, had been known to the French authorities before Tuesday’s shock church attack in a Normandy town and was described by one acquaintance as a “time bomb”.
Kermiche and another unidentified man stormed the centuries-old stone church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, taking priest Jacques Hamel hostage along with three nuns and two worshippers before slitting the elderly cleric’s throat.
He lived in his parents’ modest home -- less than two kilometres from the church -- where he spent much of the day under curfew, fitted with an electronic tag while awaiting trial for alleged links to terror.
A family member had raised the alarm after Kermiche went missing destined for war-torn Syria in March 2015.
German authorities arrested him shortly afterwards as he attempted to transit the country using his brother’s identity.
He was returned to France where he was detained on March 23 last year for “criminal association in connection with terrorism” and preparing a terrorist act. He was released on bail but banned from leaving the Seine-Maritime region of northern France.
Six weeks later he fled the family home once again and was ultimately traced to Turkey where he was detained on May 13 last year.
He was arrested on his return to France and remanded in custody before being released on bail subject to a curfew as he awaited trial for links to terrorism.
“We knew he wanted to go to Syria,” said a 60-year-old neighbour of the assailant’s family, who added that he “never saw him go to the mosque” that the family attended.
“He never spoke to us,” said the neighbour.
“The last time I saw him was on Friday. He was playing football in his garden.”