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article image'Radicalised' inmate detained after slashing guards in French prison

By Chloé COUPEAU (AFP)     Mar 5, 2019 in Crime

A "radicalised" inmate at a prison in northwest France, who seriously wounded two guards in a knife attack on Tuesday, was shot and injured in a police raid that also left his visiting partner fatally wounded, sources told AFP.

Prisoner Michael Chiolo and his female partner had been holed up in the family-visiting area of the modern, high-security prison at Conde-sur-Sarthe in Normandy when police moved in and detained them, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Twitter.

Both were shot and wounded in the operation and "the woman died" of her injuries, a source close to the case said, adding that Chiolo was less seriously wounded in the cheek.

Elite police units moved in some 10 hours after 27-year-old Chiolo wounded the prison guards with a knife which Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet suggested might have been smuggled into the prison by his partner.

"There is no doubt as to the terrorist nature of this attack," Belloubet told reporters earlier.

Chiolo, who was serving a 30-year sentence, is thought to have become a "radicalised" Islamist while in prison.

He shouted "Allahu Akhbar" (God is Greatest) during his rampage in the family-visiting area, prison staff representative Alassanne Sall told AFP.

France has suffered a series of deadly attacks from Islamist extremists since 2015 and is on high alert amid concerns about the return of Islamic State group jihadists from Syria.

The Paris state prosecutor said separately that accounts by witnesses suggested Chiolo "wanted to avenge" Cheriff Chekatt, who was shot dead by police after killing five people and wounding 11 at a Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg in December.

The latest violence comes as prison staff nationwide, who have been demanding better working conditions, have repeatedly staged protests on Tuesdays.

In January 2018, prison staff held three weeks of protests after a guard was attacked by a jihadist inmate at a high-security jail in northern France.

Experts and trade unions have consistently raised the alarm about the spread of extremism in French prisons, leading the government to build special facilities to house dangerous individuals who are sometimes held in solitary confinement.

- 'Blood everywhere' -

"It was truly a murder attempt. There was blood everywhere. The family-visiting unit was a battle scene," said Sall, from the Force Ouvriere trade union.

One of the guards suffered a serious chest wound, while the second was slashed on the face and back, he added.

Chiolo was serving his 30-year sentence for kidnapping leading to a death, armed robbery and condoning terrorism.

He and an accomplice were sentenced on appeal in 2015 for choking to death an 89-year-old man they had tied up while robbing his home.

He was also sentenced to a year in jail -- when already in prison -- for asking fellow inmates to "reenact" an attack by Islamic State gunmen on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November 2015.

The jihadists, wearing explosive belts and armed with assault rifles, killed 90 people in the concert hall, one of several venues attacked on the same day in and around Paris.

"After Paris, I would have carried on in other parts of the country," he reportedly told another inmate, according to prison staff.

The Conde-sur-Sarthe prison is one of France's most secure jails and does not suffer from overcrowding, unlike other facilities, according to Belloubet.

But despite having been identified as an extremist, Chiolo was not housed in a secure wing for radicalised inmates which was opened in September, she added.

- 'Not easy to handle' -

Chiolo was "not easy to handle and so a very close eye was kept on him," the minister added.

The inmate's lawyer, Pauline Brion, who described her client as "intelligent" and "educated" said he met his partner while in prison and that he intended to marry her.

"He had written to someone after converting (to Islam) for them to find him a wife," the lawyer told AFP.

The first "jihadist attack" launched from within a prison in France took place in September 2016, according to prison authorities.

A Moroccan, jailed for attempting to travel to Syria to join jihadists, attacked two guards with a knife at a prison in Osny, northwest of Paris, saying he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State.

Then in January 2018, a German Islamist extremist, Christian Ganczarski, jailed for helping organise an attack against a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, wounded three prison guards in a knife attack at Vendin-le-Vieil, northern France, prompting staff to demand better safety and working conditions.

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