SAINT-PRIEST, France (AP) — Police investigators wearing masks escorted a man accused of a beheading to his home in southeastern France on Sunday, searching for a possible international link to the killing after he sent a photo of the victim to a contact in Syria, a security official said.
Yassine Salhi, 35, was handcuffed and wearing jeans, a knee-length djellabah robe and a loose towel over his head when judicial police led him into his residence in the town of Saint-Priest, outside the city of Lyon.
The official told The Associated Press that police were searching for Salhi’s passport, to determine if he had traveled abroad before Friday’s attack that authorities are calling France’s first deadly terror attack since a killing spree in the Paris area in January.
Salhi, a truck deliveryman and father of three with a history of ties to Islamic extremists, admitted earlier to the killing of the manager of the transportation company that had employed Salhi since March, officials said.
The official also said Salhi had sent a macabre “selfie” photo of himself and the victim to a man identified only as Younes, who allegedly has been in war-torn Syria since last year. Investigators have found no links to any international terror group.
The suspect and police spent a little over an hour in Salhi’s home. It wasn’t immediately clear if police found what they were looking for. Sirens blaring, the police returned him to a Lyon police station where he was initially questioned.
Another security official said that authorities were looking into initial claims by Salhi to police that he had recently disputed with his wife and employer, was suicidal, and had wanted to make a media splash with a killing that had the markings of terrorism.
The severed head appeared to imitate the practice of the radical Islamic State group of beheading prisoners and displaying their heads publicly. The killing came after the militants urged attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. French authorities say Salhi had links to radical Salafists in the past.
The suspect allegedly crashed a truck into a U.S.-owned chemical warehouse on Friday, setting off an explosion, and hung his employer’s head on the factory’s gate. He was quickly arrested afterward. Officials had previously said he sent the selfie of himself and the victim to a Canadian mobile phone number.
French police on Sunday lifted a 48-hour secure perimeter around the site of the warehouse in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier near Lyon, allowing for the first pictures that show the damage sustained in the blast.
Also Sunday, after two days in custody for questioning in Lyon, Salhi’s wife and sister were released, said the officials. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that “we cannot accept barbarity” and estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Salafists — who preach an ultraconservative form of Islam — were present in France.
“We are living under a major terrorist threat, and this terrorist threat is going to last,” Valls said told i-Tele TV. “We should know we’re going to fight this terrorism over the long term.”
Jamey Keaten reported from Paris.
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