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Former colleague says Notre Dame attacker 'did not hide sympathy for radical Islam'

MEE has spoken with a journalist who used to work with Farid I., the Algerian who on Tuesday attacked a policeman with a hammer in Paris

French policemen in front of Notre Dame Cathedral on the 6 June, after one of them was attacked by a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (AFP)

ALGIERS – To those that knew him, the Algerian who attacked a police officer outside Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday was not shy about his radical beliefs, but nor did they expect him to stage such a violent act in the name of the Islamic State group.

“We often had arguments while we talked. I’ve got very moderate views while Farid is very religious,” Djamel Alilat, a journalist who worked with Farid I. tells Middle East Eye. The two worked together at the Algerian French-language daily newspaper El Watan in 2012.

“When I got to know him, he was very conservative and did not drink alcohol, which is very rare for a French-speaking journalist from Kabylia,” he adds.

On Tuesday Farid was shot by police after attacking a policeman with a hammer in front of Notre Dame Cathedal in Paris.

According to his documents, he was born in Algeria in January 1977, and arrived in France, according to his documents, in 2014.

“He was hired at El Watan just before he left the country, in the regional office covering Béjaïa [Kabylie] in 2012, because his family lives in Akbou [around 50kms away from Béjaïa] and we talked a lot, about everything, about our jobs – he was a very good journalist – about the news, and so forth,” says Aljilat, who still works at the newspaper.

“He didn’t hide his sympathy for radical Islam. But I could never have imagined he would take action.”

Arnaud Mercier, Farid’s thesis supervisor, has echoed such sentiments

Mercier, who has known him since 2013, “fell off his chair” when he learned that his student was the attacker.

“The Farid I knew is the opposite of what we are describing,” he told AFP. His student was “gentle as a lamb” and “defended the values of democracy”.

‘A succession of disappointments which has fuelled a depressive disorder’

During the attack, Farid said he was “a soldier of the caliphate”, police sources said, and authorities have since found a video in which he pledges allegiance to the Islamic State group, while searching his flat in Cergy, a Parisian suburb.

For Alilat, several events could explain why he took action. “He left for Sweden, where he married, and worked as a journalist. Then, in 2012, he left everything and came back to Algeria,” he tells MEE.

“He tried then to open his own media site, ‘Béjaïa Today’. But it didn’t work out, and a few months later the website had to close. That was when he joined El Watan before leaving for France to return to studying.”

“I haven’t seen him since, but I am firmly convinced that this succession of disappointments – his Sweden experience was a failure, he struggled to find his place in the country – has fuelled a depressive disorder.”

Farid I., who also carried two kitchen knives, screamed “This is for Syria” while he attacked the policeman, the French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said.

According to Christophe Castaner, government spokesman, Farid I. didn’t “show signs of radicalisation” and all the indications pointed to an “isolated act”.

He was injured in the thorax by a policeman's bullet, and was held into police custody at the hospital on Wednesday. 

This article originally appeared on Middle East Eye’s French page.