Mickaël Harpon, who went on a bloody knife rampage last week, killing three officers and a female administrator before he was shot in the head, worked as an IT specialist at the police headquarters. As the investigation into the man continues, more troubling facts have been revealed which show a major lapse in security.
His job gave Harpon a top security clearance and access to computers in a police department tasked with monitoring suspected radical Islamists in France, and he was found to be in possession of sensitive data. When they searched his home, investigators discovered the personal details of police officers who had infiltrated a number of mosques in Paris frequented by suspected radicals. The information was next to propaganda videos of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), which is worrisome, to say the least.
“It's staggering as well as maddening. How was this person able to get through the net? This is amateurism that needs to be sorted out,” Yves Lefebvre, a police union spokesman, commented on the discovery.
It was not immediately clear if Harpon kept the information to himself or used it to warn fellow Islamists. The French government hopes he didn’t share the data.
“I cannot guarantee he did not use his access to give information. For the time being, nothing indicates that he did,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a radio interview.
The minister is on the defensive now that the French opposition and some media have accused him of negligence which, as Le Figaro’s front-page editorial put it, allowed “the poison of radical Islam” to penetrate “the heart of the state apparatus.”
Harpon is said to have converted to Islam around ten years ago, with his religious convictions becoming more extreme as the years went by. It has been revealed that he had had contact with suspicious individuals, including a suspected Salafist preacher. Salafism is a fundamentalist branch of Islam strongly associated with extremism.
Officials initially said Harpon’s behavior at work sparked no suspicions, but according to fresh media reports, a number of red flags concerning him actually went unaddressed. He wouldn’t kiss female colleagues on the cheeks, as is customary in France but forbidden under strict gender separation rules of Salafist Islam. In 2015, he purportedly defended the Charlie Hedbo shooting in an argument with a colleague, claiming the victims “had it coming.” A probe was launched at the time, but none of his coworkers would officially report Harpon.
The news that French police ranks had such a dangerous individual in a position of high trust is sending shockwaves across the force already struggling with plethora of problems, including dwindling salaries and uncertainty around pensions, a lack of manpower and skyrocketing suicide rates.