The Paris knifeman claimed to have ‘heard voices’ during a deranged episode the night before he murdered four of his police colleagues, according to his wife.
Michael Harpon was shot in the head yesterday by an officer who had just joined the force, after slaughtering three men and one woman with a ceramic knife in a 30-minute frenzy at the police headquarters in Paris.
His wife Iham was arrested hours later and told police that Harpon had become ‘incoherent’ and was displaying ‘unusual and agitated behaviour’ on Wednesday night before waking ‘abruptly’ yesterday morning, BFM reported.
Police are today examining whether Harpon, described as a ‘very quiet person’ by neighbours, held a grudge against his colleagues, amid claims that he had clashed with his boss over his behaviour towards women.
Harpon, a 45-year-old computer scientist from Martinique, had converted to Islam last year but a search of his flat in a Paris suburb near the Charles de Gaulle airport last night found no initial signs of radicalisation.
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said on France Info today that Paris prosecutors have decided to open a murder probe over the events ‘which are not falling under terrorism at this stage of the investigation’.
High alert: Armed security personnel keep order in Paris yesterday after a knifeman went on the rampage at police headquarters and murdered four of his colleagues
Emergency: A series of police and fire vehicles on the scene near Paris police headquarters where a civilian police worker killed four people on Thursday afternoon
According to Le Parisien, Harpon had left no suicide note and there was no claim of allegiance to an extremist group.
His computer and telephone have been seized and will now be examined, while Harpon’s brother was also reportedly arrested.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said authorities had opened a murder investigation, for the moment ruling out a terrorism inquiry.
Last night anti-terror agencies were believed to be monitoring the investigation but not directly involved in it.
‘An investigation has been launched into a grudge the assailant may have held against his colleagues, but terrorism cannot be ruled out,’ a source said.
Harpon and his wife, who both had hearing difficulties, had married in 2014 and had two children.
Giving evidence with the help of a sign language interpreter, she said Harpon had ‘heard voices’ during an apparent deranged episode on Wednesday night.
Union officials yesterday described Harpon as a trusted, long-serving employee who had full security clearance and had never caused problems before.
French interior minister Christophe Castaner said the man had worked for Paris police since 2003.
‘There were no warning signs,’ Mr Castaner said. ‘This man was known inside the IT department, he worked alongside his colleagues and never presented any behavioural difficulties.’
High security: Armed personnel block a bridge over the River Seine near the police compound where three men and one woman were killed yesterday
In the heart of Paris: Police cordon off a road near the site of the massacre, with Notre Dame cathedral – currently closed after the fire in April – seen in the background
Comfort: People console each other on their way out of Paris police headquarters after the force’s worst loss of life in a single day since World War II
The Paris knifeman lies dead on the ground in the courtyard of police headquarters after killing four officers with a ceramic knife yesterday
However, there were reports that Harpon had recently been called in by his boss to explain why he refused to interact with women.
Christophe Crepin of the Police Up In Anger movement told French radio that the assailant had experienced issues with his supervisor.
‘I know there were tensions between him and his direct supervisor,’ he said. ‘I do not think this is a terrorist act.’
‘It’s the worst scenario possible, an internal attack with colleagues working together,’ said Philippe Capon of the UNSA police union.
Mr Capon cautioned against jumping to conclusions on the motive and said: ‘Nothing can be ruled out, including a personal issue.’
Harpon went on the rampage just after 1pm yesterday, starting in an office, then attacking two women on his way to the courtyard where he was shot dead.
Le Parisien reported that the officer who shot him was a young policeman who had only joined the force a week earlier.
Harpon was apparently killed with a Heckler & Koch G36 rifle and a photo showed him lying dead in the courtyard.
A ceramic knife would not have activated metal detectors, and Harpon would not have been searched when he entered the building near Notre Dame cathedral.
The attack took place at the Paris police headquarters in the historic centre of the city, near the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral
French police secure the area in front of the Paris police headquarters after the knife rampage
Paramedics walk by fire engines and police vehicles near Paris police headquarters where the attack took place on Thursday afternoon
Three men and one woman were killed in the French police’s worst loss of life in a single day since World War II.
Another department employee wounded in the rampage underwent emergency surgery, interior minister Mr Castaner said.
Last night the victims were named by Actu17 as Damien E, 50; Brice L, 38; Anthony L, also 38; and Aurélia T, 39.
President Emmanuel Macron stopped by police headquarters to show solidarity with officers and department employees, his office said.
The neighbourhood in the heart of Paris was locked down as emergency services and military personnel responded to the attack.
An air ambulance landed on a bridge over the Seine while police also patrolled the river on a small boat.
‘Paris weeps for its own this afternoon after this terrifying attack in the police headquarters. The toll is heavy, several officers lost their lives,’ the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo said.
Emery Siamandi, an employee at police headquarters, said he heard gunshots and saw two weeping officers running out of a room.
A third officer, described by Mr Siamandi as the policeman who shot and killed the assailant, came out on his knees, also in tears.
An air ambulance flies over the Seine as emergency services respond to the knife rampage in Paris on Thursday
Emergency personnel stand near an air ambulance helicopter on the Pont Marie in Paris
‘People were running everywhere, there was crying everywhere,’ said Mr Siamandi, an interpreter who was in the building when the attack happened.
‘I heard a shot, I gathered it was inside,’ he said. ‘Moments later, I saw police officers crying. They were in a panic.’
Another witness said they initially thought the alarming incident at headquarters was a training exercise.
‘[The attacker] was running after a policeman. He was told to drop his knife, but he did not stop and the policeman fired,’ they said.
‘At first I thought it was a training exercise, but no. The policeman, who was on a break, shouted out three warnings, but the assailant would not stop. The police officer fired two shots and then the assailant fell.’
A further witness said: ‘I heard a shot, I think it was around 12.30. Around me, there were only policemen.
‘They immediately unsheathed their weapons. I was very surprised to hear these shots because this is not the place where we imagine that this can happen.
‘I first thought of a suicide because there are many in the police force at the moment. And then a few moments later I saw policewomen in tears.
‘I thought it must be serious. The police were in panic, they were running everywhere. Many people were crying.’
An emergency message was broadcast over loudspeakers at the court of justice next door, announcing ‘an attack’ at the police headquarters and stating the area was ‘under surveillance’.
Castaner, who was due to visit Turkey later on Thursday, postponed his trip to visit the scene of the attack.
Military personnel are surrounded by emergency vehicles as they respond to the attack today
Police officers patrol in a rubber boat on the Seine river after the knife rampage on Thursday
The premises were cordoned off around lunchtime, and emergency services were quickly at the scene
The attack came a day after thousands of officers marched in Paris to protest low wages, long hours and increasing suicides in their ranks.
The force has been stretched to the limit by a year of ‘yellow vest’ protests against Emmanuel Macron and officers have been accused of heavy-handed tactics.
France has been by a succession of attacks since 2015 including co-ordinated terror attacks and lone-wolf knife and gun attacks.
The country remains on high alert after these attacks.
In January 2015, two men armed with Kalashnikov rifles stormed the Paris offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people.
A policewoman was killed just outside Paris the following day, while a gunman took hostages at a Jewish supermarket, four of whom were killed.
On November 15 that year, France was hit by the worst terror attacks in its history.
Islamic State jihadists armed with assault rifles and explosives struck outside a France-Germany football match at the national stadium, Paris cafes, and the Bataclan concert hall in a coordinated assault that left 130 people dead and more than 350 wounded.
On July 14, 2016 a Tunisian ploughed a truck through a large crowd gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in the Mediterranean city of Nice. The attack killed 86 people and injured more than 400.