Matthew Dalton, Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2019
France has been rocked by a security breach that allowed an Islamist extremist to work in the heart of its counterterrorism apparatus for years, before he killed four of his colleagues last week and was then shot dead.
Opposition lawmakers on Monday called for Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to resign over the assault, which snapped the relative lull in terrorist attacks in France in recent months. Mr. Castaner brushed aside the calls.
Mickaël Harpon, a 45-year-old convert to Islam, continued working in the intelligence division of the Paris police despite arguing with colleagues in 2015 that the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was justified, Mr. Castaner said. Harpon’s colleagues mentioned the conversation to their superiors, but written reports on the incident weren’t filed that might have prompted a formal investigation within France’s security bureaucracy.
An official at the prefecture’s internal security department followed up with Harpon several times in the following years, including just a few weeks ago, Mr. Castaner added.
Harpon’s position in the intelligence unit was particularly shocking given its responsibility for detecting Islamist terrorism and extremism throughout the French capital.
French officials say the probe has uncovered links between the attacker and people belonging to the Salafist fundamentalist movement of Islam, but authorities haven’t elaborated on the nature of those connections.
Harpon killed three men Thursday in the intelligence unit—two officers and one administrative assistant—using knives he bought on his lunch break the same day. He then tried to enter another office but found the door locked, after which he stabbed two female police employees as he went downstairs to the building’s main courtyard. It was there he was shot dead. One of the women died and another was wounded in the shoulder.
Despite the discussion on Charlie Hebdo, Harpon appeared to be well-integrated into his team at the police intelligence division, where he worked in information technology, according to an internal report on Harpon prepared by the intelligence chief of the Paris police. The information-technology team was so close as to be “quasi-familial,” according to the report, which was published by public radio channel France Inter and confirmed by Mr. Castaner.