Church attack suspect’s family demands answers

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A third suspect has been arrested in France following an Islamic extremist knife attack at a church in Nice in which three people were killed.

Meanwhile, the family of the suspected Tunisian assailant demanded to see video footage of what happened.

Investigators in France, Tunisia and Italy are trying to determine the motive of chief suspect Ibrahim Issaoui and whether he acted alone and whether his attack on Notre Dame Church on Thursday was premeditated.

Authorities have labelled the attack, which took place amid growing tensions around cartoons published by a French newspaper mocking the Prophet Muhammad, an act of Islamist terrorism.

France Attack
A family light a candle in front of Notre Dame Church in Nice (Daniel Cole/AP)

A 35-year-old man who met Issaoui in Nice was arrested overnight, a judicial official said on Saturday.

A 47-year-old man who met Issaoui the night before the attack was already in custody, taking the number of detained suspects to three. Their connection to the attack remains unclear.

A previously unknown Tunisian extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack, and Tunisian and French authorities are investigating whether the claim is legitimate.

In Issaoui’s hometown of Sfax, his family expressed shock and appealed for peace. But they also expressed bewilderment that the young man who drank alcohol and showed no outward signs of radicalism would flee to France and attack a church.

Tunisia France Attack
Gamra, the mother of Nice attack suspect Ibrahim Issaoui, said she wants to know the truth (Helmy Ben Salah/AP)

Issaoui’s father and brother Wissem said that if he did indeed carry out the attack, he should face justice.

“We are Muslims, we are against terrorism, we are poor. Show me that my brother committed the attack and judge him as a terrorist,” Wissem said. “If he was the attacker, he will take his responsibility.”

In Tina Street in the Nasr neighbourhood of Sfax, friends and neighbours described Issaoui as a man who sold fuel for motorcycles. While not starving or homeless, he was poor like many in the area, poverty that is driving more and more young Tunisians to seek jobs and opportunity in Europe.

He had had small-time run-ins with the law as a teenager, but nothing that alerted Tunisian authorities to possible extremist leanings. That meant that when he was served with an expulsion order by Italy, he was basically free to go where he pleased.

Italy’s interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, told the AP that Italy’s overburdened repatriation centres had no place for him, despite agreements with Tunisia governing the return of citizens who do not qualify for asylum in Italy.

“Obviously, we give precedence to people who are signalled by law enforcement or by Tunisian authorities,” Ms Lamorgese said. “The number of spots are not infinite, and he could not therefore be placed inside a repatriation centre.”

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