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Paris attacker rejected by French army, blamed it on ‘foreign origin’

Foued Mohamed-Aggad, one of three young men who shot dead 90 people at a Paris concert hall a month ago, was turned down by the French army and possibly also by the police before Islamic State took him on to fight for them.

world Updated: Dec 12, 2015 00:35 IST
The apartment block where Foued Mohamed-Aggad lived before he went to Syria in late 2013, is seen in Wissembourg, Eastern France. Investigators identified him as one of three Islamist gunmen who killed 90 people at the Bataclan.
The apartment block where Foued Mohamed-Aggad lived before he went to Syria in late 2013, is seen in Wissembourg, Eastern France. Investigators identified him as one of three Islamist gunmen who killed 90 people at the Bataclan.(Reuters Photo)

Foued Mohamed-Aggad, one of three young men who shot dead 90 people at a Paris concert hall a month ago, was turned down by the French army and possibly also by the police before Islamic State took him on to fight for them.

Army recruiters in the eastern city of Strasbourg decided, after conducting physical and psychological tests, that he was not a suitable candidate to bear arms as a French soldier.

Mohamed-Aggad’s identity was only established this week because of a text message his mother Fatima received.

The text came from his wife, Hadjira, in Syria. It told the mother of four that her younger son had died “with his brothers” on November 13, the night of the attacks.

Fearing the worst, and with her elder son already in prison on suspicion of having terrorism links, the Moroccan-born woman went to the family’s lawyer.

Read | Geneva police hunt Islamic State suspects as part of Paris attacks probe

DNA matching followed, and the profile of yet another radicalised young man, from yet another part of France, emerged this week, joining other home-grown French and Belgian jihadis already identified as the killers of 130 victims at the Bataclan concert hall and elsewhere in Paris.

Mohamed-Aggad had set off for Syria in 2013, and while his departure was no secret in his small home town of Wissembourg in northeastern France, some who knew him were shocked to learn of his role in the Paris killings.

“I can’t believe it was him,” said Yazar Mesut, a 46-year-old neighbour told Reuters in one of the town’s bars. “He was intelligent and polite, knew what respect was about and didn’t act like a big shot.”

Jean-Marie de Peretti mourns the loss of his 33-year-old daughter Aurelie, one of the victims of the attack on the Bataclan concert hall, in Paris. (AP Photo)

According to another neighbour, who gave his name as Youssef, the young man failed the police entrance exam by just a few marks, and was also turned down by the army.

“That’s the only time I saw him disappointed. He was complaining. He reckoned it was because of his foreign origins,” said Youssef.

Not suitable

An official from Strasbourg’s army recruitment office confirmed that Mohamed-Aggad had tried and failed to join up in 2010.

“We have filters. We look at personality and do physical and psychological tests. The candidate has to be healthy and viable for the army,” said recruitment spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sophie Caussel.

“In this case we identified him as not suitable as a soldier and to bear arms. We decided not to go any further with him.”

People gather at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of a series of deadly attacks in Paris, in front of the Bataclan cafe on Voltaire Boulevard in Paris. (AFP Photo)

Most would-be soldiers in France are in fact disappointed. Only 15,000 people will be recruited to the French army this year out of 160,000 applicants so far, according to official figures, which recorded a big jump in applications after the November 13 attacks.

Police recruitment authorities would neither confirm nor deny any application. An official cited the confidentiality requirements of the inquiry into the November 13 killings as the reason for the secrecy.

Either way, Mohamed-Aggad, who was 23 when he died, had left his military and police ambitions far behind him.

Read | Police sources confirm positive identification of third Paris bomber

According to the judicial source he was also being investigated for links to Mourad Fares, a Franco-Moroccan man suspected of being a key jihadist recruiter for Syria in Toulouse and Strasbourg, and who is already in jail in France after being arrested in Turkey last year.

Prayed on his own

Christian Mahler shared a floor in the small residential building near Wissembourg station where Mohamed-Aggad’s family lived for a time, and where they stood out among most residents who were of European descent.

Mohamed-Aggad began frequenting the mosque more often around 2012, according to other people in the bar.

During that period, according to Mahler, Mohamed-Aggad’s mother often found herself apologising to neighbours for the noise made by her children, who used to bang on the walls of their apartment.

Can Yakup, president of a Turkish cultural centre that he said Mohamed-Aggad visited “once or twice”, thinks he was a witness to a change in the young man’s behaviour.

“The last time I sent him away because he wanted to pray on his own,” Yakup told Reuters at the centre which sits behind a railway line and next to a Lidl supermarket. “It was like, for him, the rest of us weren’t good enough Muslims.”

Read | France shuts mosque, arrests man in crackdown after Paris attacks