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Marseille assailant was briefly detained days before attack

PARIS — The assailant who fatally stabbed two women at a train station in southern France over the weekend had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting just days before but was released, French authorities said Monday, adding that he had used multiple identities in dealings with police since 2005.

An internal investigation has been opened into the circumstances of his release, authorities said.

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Authorities were initially cautious about describing the events at the Saint-Charles train station in Marseille on Sunday as a possible act of terrorism, but François Molins, the Paris prosecutor who handles such cases nationwide, said Monday that several aspects pointed to terrorism.

The assailant, who was shot and killed by a military patrol, used a knife in the crowded station and struck random bystanders as well as soldiers, “therefore answering the constant calls to action of the Daesh terrorist organization,” Molins said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

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Hours after the assault, the group’s news agency, Amaq, said the man had been inspired by calls to carry out attacks in Western countries.

The group’s claim of responsibility could not be independently verified.

The assailant Sunday cried “God is great” in Arabic during the attack, Molins said. But the prosecutor did not say if there were known ties between the assailant and the Islamic State or other extremist networks.

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Molins said that the two victims, whom he did not identify, were 20-year-old cousins, and that one was visiting the other from Lyon for the weekend. The University of Aix-Marseille confirmed Monday that one of the victims was a medical student there.

At a gathering of religious leaders in Marseille after the attack, Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin said the city was “wounded” by the events, and he expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, whom he identified by their first names, Mauranne and Laura.

The identity of the assailant remains unclear. Molins said.

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