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France to step up intelligence screening after police attack

Two task forces to make proposals by year-end; probe to find out whether intelligence data may have been leaked

Paris

FRANCE will take steps to improve screening after a suspected terrorist attack in Paris on Thursday in which a police employee knifed four colleagues to death and hurt two more, raising questions about national security.

The government will set up two task forces to make proposals by the end of the year to improve screening at the Paris police department intelligence services and at anti-terrorism intelligence services, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told newspaper Journal du Dimanche in an interview published on Sunday.

The assault comes some three months after France's anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard warned that the threat of terrorism had returned. A wave of attacks has shaken the country since 2015, after assaults in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery killed 17 people in Paris and then 130 at the Bataclan concert hall in the French capital.

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Figuring out how Thursday's event occurred and making sure that proper checks are in place within the country's intelligence services are "major" issues, Mr Philippe was quoted as saying. An investigation is being conducted to find out whether intelligence data may have been leaked, he said.

The assailant, a 45-year-old man, had been working for the intelligence services' computer-maintenance department since 2003. He assaulted his colleagues with a kitchen knife and an oyster knife he'd left the office especially to purchase, according to France's anti-terrorism office.

"Of course there have been failings," French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in an interview on TF1 television on Sunday. The investigation will show whether colleagues failed to report elements that could have prevented the incident, and if mistakes were made, they will be punished, he said.

The government initially had no information about anything suspicious about the assailant's behaviour, he said. Asked whether he should resign, as members of the opposition have requested, Mr Castaner said the question is not on the table.

President Emmanuel Macron will attend a ceremony on Tuesday morning at the Paris police department where the assault happened, Agence France-Presse reported on Saturday.

Mr Ricard described "a scene of extreme violence" during a news conference on Saturday, and said his office is still trying to understand the attacker's motives as well as the context that led to his act.

An anti-terror probe was opened on Friday after police accessed dozens of text messages the man exchanged with his wife prior to the attack. The fact that the assault had been planned, the nature of the killings and the man's religious commitment led investigators to suspect a terrorist act, the prosecutor said.

The attacker converted to Islam about a decade ago and is known to have approved of killings perpetrated for religious purposes, the prosecutor said. He'd also been in contact with individuals belonging to a radical salafist movement and had exchanged religious comments with his wife less than an hour before the knifing. BLOOMBERG