French prosecutors launch probe into alleged cover-up in 2016 Normandy terror attack

(Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)French CRS police stand guard in front of the church a day after a hostage-taking in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, where French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was killed with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded in an attack on the church that was carried out by assailants linked to Islamic State, July 27, 2016.

French prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence memos in an attempt to cover up the failure to prevent the attacks in Normandy in 2016.

French news outlet Mediapart released a journalistic investigation on Thursday, claiming that the police prefecture of Paris has attempted to backdate certain documents after failing to promptly pass on information indicating the possibility of a terrorist attack.

According to the investigative report, officials held back a note regarding an intercepted encrypted conversation on Telegram suggesting that 19-year-old Adel Kermiche was planning to carry out an attack in France. Among Kermiche's targets was Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where Fr. Jacques Hamel was slain in 2016.

In one of the videos released on Telegram, Kermiche reportedly stated that he gave classes at the mosque of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray and urged jihadists to carry out attacks on churches.

"You go into a church where there is polytheism and you demolish everything! You do what has to be done and that's it! People in France, now is the time to strike. Here! I say it clearly: strike!" Kermiche said, as reported by Breitbart News.

On July 26, 2016, Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean entered the church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy, took several people hostage and slit the throat of Hamel.

The Paris Police Prefecture Intelligence Unit have reportedly stumbled upon the encrypted Telegram message five days before the attack.

The police allegedly tried to cover up the mishandling of the information by altering the date on two intelligence memos to make it look recent. Mediapart claimed that superiors ordered the officer who wrote the original report to get rid of the note, rewrite it and post-date it to make it look as if the information was only received after the attack on the church took place.

"Yes, our superiors tried to erase their tracks and they did it badly. There was an attempt to backpedal, but it did not go as planned," an agent reportedly told the news site.

Mediapart attributed the police error to overly bureaucratic processes that caused the slow transfer of information, as well as the understaffing during the summer holidays.

A judicial official said that the decision to launch the probe follows a complaint filed by civil parties in the case surrounding the attack. Lawyers of the attack survivors have reportedly requested declassified documents related to the case.

The preliminary investigation will be conducted by the Inspection generale de la Police nationale (IGPN), also known as the "police of the police."

In a statement, the Paris prefecture denied the allegations and said that the report dated July 22 did not warrant immediate intervention.

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