Abdel Malik Petitjean

Abdel Malik Petitjean was one of two assailants to storm a church in the French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on July 26, 2016, killing the priest, Jacques Hamel, and taking hostage the four others in attendance.“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761;
Kim Willsher, “France in shock again after Isis murder of priest in Normandy,” Guardian (London), July 26, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/26/france-shock-second-isis-attack-12-days.
Petitjean, who was 19 years old, and his fellow assailant, Adel Kermiche, were killed by French police as they attempted to exit the church.French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761. The ISIS-affiliated Amaq News Agency released a video the following day showing Petitjean and Kermiche swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s leader.Alastair Jamieson and Nancy Ing, “France Church Attack: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was Known Potential Radical,” NBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-church-attack-abdel-malik-petitjean-was-known-potential-radical-n618661. An investigation later uncovered communications on the encrypted messaging service Telegram between the two men and Rachid Kassim, a French-born ISIS recruiter operating out of Iraq and Syria.Jérémie Pham-lé, “Rachid Kassim, le djihadiste qui a inspiré les assassins du père Hamel,” L’Express (Paris), August 18, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-rachid-kassim-le-djihadiste-qui-a-inspire-les-assassins-du-pere-hamel_1822206.html.

Petitjean was born to a family of Algerian immigrants in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, a town in eastern France, later moving to the southern town of Aix-les-Bans.“Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean: 5 Facts You Need to Know,” Heavy, July 28, 2016, http://heavy.com/news/2016/07/abdel-malik-nabil-petitjean-french-priest-murder-suspect-named-identified-isis-video-photo-adel-kermiche-jacques-hamel/. As a teenager, he reportedly enjoyed science-fiction films and video games and did not immediately come across as extremist.“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706. Petitjean reportedly graduated from a vocational school in 2015“Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean: 5 Facts You Need to Know,” Heavy, July 28, 2016, http://heavy.com/news/2016/07/abdel-malik-nabil-petitjean-french-priest-murder-suspect-named-identified-isis-video-photo-adel-kermiche-jacques-hamel/. and worked part-time sales jobs.“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706. One report suggests that he worked as a baggage handler at an airport until April of 2016.Lara Marlowe, “Priest’s killers were Isis apprentices who met through app,” Irish Times (Dublin), August 2, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/priest-s-killers-were-isis-apprentices-who-met-through-app-1.2741769.

On June 10, 2016, Petitjean attempted to travel to Syria via Turkey to join ISIS, but ultimately stopped in Turkey and returned to France the following day.“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706;
Jamie Schram and Yaron Steinbuch, “France was warned about terrorist who killed priest in church attack,” New York Post, July 28, 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/07/28/france-was-warned-about-terrorist-who-killed-priest-in-church-attack/.
Perceiving Petitjean as a potential threat to security because of this travel, French authorities added Petitjean to a watch list called the “S List” on June 29, 2016.Alastair Jamieson and Nancy Ing, “France Church Attack: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was Known Potential Radical,” NBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-church-attack-abdel-malik-petitjean-was-known-potential-radical-n618661;
“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706.

Petitjean and Kermiche met via the Internet only days before they carried out their joint attack. The two reportedly first made contact over Telegram on the night of July 21, 2016.“Saint-Etienne du Rouvray: les échanges glaçants des terroristes avant l’attaque,” L’Express (Paris), September 11, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-rachid-kassim-le-djihadiste-qui-a-inspire-les-assassins-du-pere-hamel_1822206.html. It is suspected that the two were put into contact with one another by Kassim, who is believed to have orchestrated the attack remotely.Jérémie Pham-lé, “Rachid Kassim, le djihadiste qui a inspiré les assassins du père Hamel,” L’Express (Paris), August 18, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-rachid-kassim-le-djihadiste-qui-a-inspire-les-assassins-du-pere-hamel_1822206.html. Kermiche and Petitjean first met in person when Petitjean travelled 700 kilometers to Kermiche’s home in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on July 22, the day after they first made contact online.Lara Marlowe, “Priest’s killers were Isis apprentices who met through app,” Irish Times (Dublin), August 2, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/priest-s-killers-were-isis-apprentices-who-met-through-app-1.2741769;
“Saint-Etienne du Rouvray: les échanges glaçants des terroristes avant l’attaque,” L’Express (Paris), September 11, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-les-echanges-glacants-des-terroristes-avant-l-attaque_1848943.html.
The two decided on the Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Kermiche’s hometown as the target.“Saint-Etienne du Rouvray: les échanges glaçants des terroristes avant l’attaque,” L’Express (Paris), September 11, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-les-echanges-glacants-des-terroristes-avant-l-attaque_1848943.html. Although Kermiche wore a tracking anklet, it was turned off for four hours each morning, allowing them a window of time in which to carry out the attack.French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761;
“French church killer Adel Kermiche: ‘A ticking time bomb,’” Irish Times (Dublin), July 27, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/french-church-killer-adel-kermiche-a-ticking-time-bomb-1.2735986.

Four days before the attack, Petitjean posted a video on Telegram in which he called for Muslims to strike at France and, addressing French president François Hollande, asserted that “we are going to destroy your country and raise our banner.”Lara Marlowe, “Priest’s killers were Isis apprentices who met through app,” Irish Times (Dublin), August 2, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/priest-s-killers-were-isis-apprentices-who-met-through-app-1.2741769. The same day, a foreign intelligence organization allegedly alerted French authorities about the video, providing a photo of an unidentified man––Petitjean––and a warning that he “could be ready to participate in an attack on national territory.”Jamie Schram and Yaron Steinbuch, “France was warned about terrorist who killed priest in church attack,” New York Post, July 28, 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/07/28/france-was-warned-about-terrorist-who-killed-priest-in-church-attack/;
Lara Marlowe, “Priest’s killers were Isis apprentices who met through app,” Irish Times (Dublin), August 2, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/priest-s-killers-were-isis-apprentices-who-met-through-app-1.2741769;
Alastair Jamieson and Nancy Ing, “France Church Attack: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was Known Potential Radical,” NBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-church-attack-abdel-malik-petitjean-was-known-potential-radical-n618661.
Although the photo was circulated by police,Jamie Schram and Yaron Steinbuch, “France was warned about terrorist who killed priest in church attack,” New York Post, July 28, 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/07/28/france-was-warned-about-terrorist-who-killed-priest-in-church-attack/;
Alastair Jamieson and Nancy Ing, “France Church Attack: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was Known Potential Radical,” NBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-church-attack-abdel-malik-petitjean-was-known-potential-radical-n618661.
no photo of Petitjean existed on government records despite his placement on the “S List,” so authorities were unable to identify him.Lara Marlowe, “Priest’s killers were Isis apprentices who met through app,” Irish Times (Dublin), August 2, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/priest-s-killers-were-isis-apprentices-who-met-through-app-1.2741769. Petitjean was ultimately not identified until DNA testing was performed after the attack.“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706.

Petitjean and Kermiche launched their attack at the Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on July 26, 2016. At approximately 9:25 a.m. local time, the two stormed the church, where morning Mass was taking place. After entering the church and taking two parishioners and two nuns as hostages, a third nun was able to escape as the two assailants reportedly forced the 86-year-old priest present, Jacques Hamel, to his knees, slitting his throat.“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761;
Kim Willsher, “France in shock again after Isis murder of priest in Normandy,” Guardian (London), July 26, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/26/france-shock-second-isis-attack-12-days.
While Hamel bled to death on the floor, Petitjean and Kermiche forced one of the hostages, Guy Coponet, to record the two assailants chanting what the victims described as an Arabic sermon before stabbing him in the hip and throat, leaving him seriously wounded.Jamie Schram and Yaron Steinbuch, “France was warned about terrorist who killed priest in church attack,” New York Post, July 28, 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/07/28/france-was-warned-about-terrorist-who-killed-priest-in-church-attack/;
“French survivor tells of Rouen priest’s jihadist murder,” BBC News, September 26, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37505350;
Euan McKirdy, “Second French church attacker identified,” CNN, July 28, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/28/europe/france-normandy-church-attack/index.html.
The nun that escaped, known as Sister Danielle, managed to contact local police.“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761.

According to prosecutor François Molins, the police attempted to negotiate with the terrorists via a side door, but were unable to enter the building due to the use of the remaining three hostages as human shields.Tim Hume, Eliott C. McLaughlin, and Margot Haddad, “Hollande: Deadly church attack in France carried out in name of ISIS,” CNN, July 27, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/26/europe/france-normandy-church-hostage/index.html;
“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761.
The police unit involved in the rescue attempt was the Brigade de Recherce et d’Intervention (Research and Intervention Brigade or BRI), which specializes in hostage situations.“Adel Kermiche et Abdel Malik Petitjean, tueurs de l’église de Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray,” L’Express (Paris), http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/fait-divers/adel-kermiche-et-abdel-malik-petitjean-tueurs-de-l-eglise-de-saint-etienne-du-rouvray_1816387.html. At 10:45 a.m. local time, Petitjean and Kermiche attempted to leave the church, continuing to use the hostages as human shields for their exit.“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761;
Kim Willsher, “France in shock again after Isis murder of priest in Normandy,” Guardian (London), July 26, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/26/france-shock-second-isis-attack-12-days.
One of the assailants reportedly carried a fake explosive device attached to a kitchen timer, and the other wore a fake explosive belt and one also reportedly had a gun.Tim Hume, Eliott C. McLaughlin, and Margot Haddad, “Hollande: Deadly church attack in France carried out in name of ISIS,” CNN, July 27, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/26/europe/france-normandy-church-hostage/index.html;
“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761.
The two assailants charged forward, shouting “Allahu akhbar!” but they were shot dead by the police.“French church attack: What we know,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36900761;
Kim Willsher, “France in shock again after Isis murder of priest in Normandy,” Guardian (London), July 26, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/26/france-shock-second-isis-attack-12-days.

The day after the attack, ISIS’s Amaq news agency released a video showing Petitjean and Kermiche swearing their allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Alastair Jamieson and Nancy Ing, “France Church Attack: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was Known Potential Radical,” NBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-church-attack-abdel-malik-petitjean-was-known-potential-radical-n618661. While it remained unclear at the time whether Petitjean and Kermiche received any direct instructions or support from ISIS, an audio file was later released through Telegram in which the speaker, believed by authorities to be Kassim, praised Kermiche and Petitjean for their actions.“Did jihadist Rashid Kassim lure French youths to plot attacks?” BBC News, September 15, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37340697. An investigation later discovered that the three communicated over Telegram,Jérémie Pham-lé, “Rachid Kassim, le djihadiste qui a inspiré les assassins du père Hamel,” L’Express (Paris), August 18, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-rachid-kassim-le-djihadiste-qui-a-inspire-les-assassins-du-pere-hamel_1822206.html. and it is suspected that Kassim first brought the two into contact“Did jihadist Rashid Kassim lure French youths to plot attacks?” BBC News, September 15, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37340697. and directed them in carrying out the attack.Jérémie Pham-lé, “Rachid Kassim, le djihadiste qui a inspiré les assassins du père Hamel,” L’Express (Paris), August 18, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/saint-etienne-du-rouvray-rachid-kassim-le-djihadiste-qui-a-inspire-les-assassins-du-pere-hamel_1822206.html.

Petitjean’s acquaintances told news outlets that they were surprised about Petitjean’s involvement in the attacks. According to Petitjean’s mother Yamina Boukessoula, he had never spoken about ISIS.Alastair Jamieson and Nancy Ing, “France Church Attack: Abdel-Malik Petitjean Was Known Potential Radical,” NBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-church-attack-abdel-malik-petitjean-was-known-potential-radical-n618661. At first, she refused to believe that he was involved in the attack, stating “He was a good French citizen. He is gentle. I know my child, I know my son. He was not involved at all.”“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706.

Petitjean reportedly had informed her that he left home to travel to visit a cousin in northeastern France“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706. and sent her a text message on the morning of the attack that said, “Don’t worry, everything is fine… I love you.”Jamie Schram and Yaron Steinbuch, “France was warned about terrorist who killed priest in church attack,” New York Post, July 28, 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/07/28/france-was-warned-about-terrorist-who-killed-priest-in-church-attack/. A self-described friend of Petitjean from his hometown similarly stated, “It is hard to believe. He was against Daesh [ISIS]… He was not radical at all.”“France church attack: ‘Gentle’ boy who became a killer,” BBC News, July 28, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36914706. Djamel Tazghat, who managed the mosque in Aix-les-Bains which Petitjean, said, “we never had a problem with [Petitjean] at the mosque. No strange observations, he was always smiling.”Jamie Schram and Yaron Steinbuch, “France was warned about terrorist who killed priest in church attack,” New York Post, July 28, 2016, http://nypost.com/2016/07/28/france-was-warned-about-terrorist-who-killed-priest-in-church-attack/.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
ISIS
Type(s) of Organization:
Insurgent, territory-controlling, religious, terrorist, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, jihadist, pan-Islamist, Salafist, takfiri
Position(s):
Domestic terrorist

ISIS is a violent jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria. The group has declared wilayas (provinces) in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. ISIS has also waged attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Kuwait.

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