French prosecutors: Nice church attack and teacher's beheading are linked

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Nice mourns after deadly knife attack
FILE PHOTO: Nice mourns after deadly knife attack

PARIS (Reuters) - The man suspected of knifing to death three people in a church in the French city of Nice had on his telephone pictures of the man who beheaded a middle school teacher near Paris 13 days earlier, prosecutors said on Friday.

The discovery of the photos on the phone of 21-year-old Tunisian Brahim al-Aouissaoui, who was shot and wounded by police in the Oct. 29 attack, could indicate a common motive behind the two attacks.

Anti-terrorist prosecutors said in a media statement that an examination of Aouissaoui's mobile phone had also revealed images linked to the Islamic State group. The prosecutors did not say what they were or how they were linked to the group.

The middle school teacher, Samuel Paty, was killed by a young man of Chechen origin who, before the attack, recorded a message saying he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class.

The attacker, partially identified by prosecutors as Abdoulakh A., was shot dead.

It was the latest in a litany of violence spanning several years in France linked to the cartoons. Muslims see them as blasphemous, while French officials have defended the right to publish them, saying it is a matter of freedom of expression.

Until now, the only connection prosecutors had drawn between the Paris attack and the Nice church attack was the method employed. In both cases, the attackers used a large knife and beheaded, or tried to behead, their victims.

The knife attack in Nice prompted the government to raise the security alert for all French territory to its highest level and President Emmanuel Macron said more soldiers would be deployed to protect key sites such as places of worship and schools. [nL8N2HL3BW]

France and Germany pushed on Tuesday to tighten European Union borders to head off what Macron called the "threat of terrorism" after suspected Islamist militants killed eight people in Paris, Nice and Vienna within a month. [nL1N2HW1VI]

(Reporting by Henri-Pierre Andre and Matthieu Protard; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)