PARIS (LifeSiteNews) —Abdelmasih Hanoun, the 32-year-old man who knifed four toddlers and injured two pensioners in a playground in Annecy last week, is not a Christian but a Muslim, says Elish Yako. Yako is the Franco-Iraqi secretary general of an association that gives assistance to Christian minorities in the Middle East and to their communities in France. He claims that there is no evidence that the man was ever baptized.
At this point, it is impossible to check whether Yako’s educated guess is accurate. But it does indicate that the attacker’s story, culminating in an act so gruesome as the one he committed against helpless children, raises many questions and that nothing about it can be taken for granted.
Interestingly, his name routinely appears between quotation marks in the press. In the Arabic press, his name reads: Karim Abdelmassih Hanoun, which seems to indicate that “Abdelmassih” would be his father’s given name. Karim is a first name used both in Muslim and in Christian communities, while Abdelmassih, while a frequent surname, is out of fashion as a first name.
What do we know? It is clear that the attacker had requested refugee status in France and had received a negative answer four days before the attack on the grounds that he already had that status in Sweden.
According to the French police, he was wearing a pendant in the form of a cross, and a Christian book of prayers was found among his belongings in a public entrance to a building where he had been sleeping rough during the two months preceding his bloody assault on innocent children. During the attack, he repeatedly shouted “In the name of Jesus Christ!”, as can be heard on the amateur video of the event.
Elish Yako, co-founder of the “Association d’entraide aux minorités d’Orient”, (Association for the Support of Minorities in the East) published a series of tweets this Monday claiming that “Abdelmassih” was a “fake Chistian” who had been preparing his “jihad” under cover.
Yako relied on his Christian network in Syria and Sweden to institute an informal enquiry, an initiative he took when he realized that the man was claiming to be called “Abdelmasih,” a Christian name meaning “servant of the Messiah” or “servant of Christ.” This sounded in a way too obvious to be true, he said. Added to the fact that the man was claiming to be killing “in the name of Christ,” much as Islamic terrorists perform their attacks while shouting “Allahu Akbar;” this made Yako believe that the attacker could not be a true Christian. A deranged person, even a Christian, may have attacked children as this man did, but not while invoking the name of Christ, he argued during a telephone interview.
He confirmed to LifeSite that his contacts in Syria had been unable to find a certificate of baptism for “Abdelmasih.” In the Middle East, religious affiliation is more part of one’s identity than in Western countries, and these records are well kept – when possible. However, as Christians often face persecution in these countries, registers are regularly destroyed during attacks on churches, fires, and the like. The absence of a certificate is therefore insufficient proof in itself.
In his series of tweets, Yako wrote:
“The truth about the Syrian murderer in Annecy is gradually coming to light: he is a fake Christian terrorist who has been preparing his jihad since leaving Syria. In fact, we searched in Syria and found no baptismal certificate.” – “In Sweden, there are no baptism or celibacy certificates either, which are compulsory for marriage. As for his marriage certificate on 11/05/2018 (in which the names of his wife and her parents were concealed out of respect for their suffering), he hid his true identity on it.” – “The boxes: “date and place of birth,” as well as those regarding the identity of his parents are empty. This is how a terrorist can create a false identity by taking advantage of the kindness and naivety of real Christians who have themselves suffered persecution.”
Along with the tweets, Yako published a photo of the page of the marriage register recording the union of this man with a Syrian Orthodox woman (with the blacked-out the names of the woman and her parents) and, surprisingly, “Abdelmassih” appears to be named but not his parents. However, the Arabic script is extremely difficult to read.
“If he didn’t give the names of his mother and father, it was to hide their religion,” Elish Yako told LifeSite, pointing out that it would have been possible to determine whether they were Muslims simply by their names. The absence of the parents’ names is not unheard of in marriage records, one Oriental source told LifeSite. However, the man’s own and his father’s Christian names would be expected to be included at the least in the Oriental form giving the spouse’s first name, his or her father’s first name and their surname. But as said before, the handwritten words are extremely difficult to read on the document produced.
The marriage would have taken place in Sweden in 2018; several news sources state that the couple met when “Abdelmassih” was in Turkey. They had been cohabiting for several years prior to their wedding.
Yako believes that the man lied about his religion to benefit from refugee status and get easy access. to Europe, like many other “converts for asylum papers,”,and to have used this fake “conversion” in order to marry a Christian woman.
This is not unheard of: a lawyer interviewed after the attack on the right-leaning television station CNews, Thierry de Montbrial, wondered out loud whether the assailant was truly an “Oriental Christian,” recalling that NGOs that help migrants sometimes advise them to say that they are Christians to help speed up formalities.
In a recent judgment by the administrative tribunal of Paris, a migrant from Senegal claimed he had been persecuted by his Muslim father because he had converted to Christianity. His demand for refugee status was rejected because he was unable to describe how he had chosen the Christian faith and what kind of ceremonies he had joined. He also appeared to have very little knowledge of Christianity.
According to the mainstream television station BFMTV, the suspect in the Annecy attack had been convicted of welfare fraud in Sweden and was let off with a fine because he was living an “ordered” life. The BFM journalist reported from Sweden the suspect did not appear to have attended any of the local churches, and nobody knows him there, not even the priest of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
During our call, Elish Yako pointed out that interviews with the attacker’s mother, as reported by many mainstream media outlets, provide little information about her other than that she has been living in the United States for ten years and that she spoke “to the AFP” (Agence France Presse) about the “profound depression” from which she said her son has been suffering for a long time.
He also pointed to the fact that the attacker was wearing a Palestinian-style keffiyeh at the time of the attack, which he says is not a common practice either among Christians in the East or those living in Europe.
It is surprising, though, according to a Catholic Oriental source consulted by LifeSite, that a Muslim would have stooped to wearing a cross for whatever reason. According to the media, the attacker wore a tattoo; if he indeed has a cross tattooed on his wrist this would definitely identify him as a Christian, as such tattoos are used to make sure to be buried in Christian ground. However, the only tattoo visible on pictures of “Abdelmassih” on the internet is on his leg and is clearly not a cross.
The mainstream press still says that the attacker was a Christian and makes claims for various stages in his life: his birth in a Christian village in Syria, his military service in Bashar al-Assad’s army [al-Assad has headed the Syrian Republic with an iron fist since the year 2000], his desertion in 2011 or 2012, his illegal entry into Turkey, and then his arrival in Sweden via Greece, where he is said to have lived for a time with his wife whom he had met in Turkey. His service in Bashar’s army is reported to have led to Sweden’s refusal to give him Swedish citizenship on the grounds that he was part of an army known for acts of torture and other abuse. He is said to have fled the army after an attack by ISIS left all his fellow soldiers in his unit dead: he escaped and left Syria illegally for Turkey. His involvement with the Syrian army raises yet more questions.
Whatever the case, the points raised by Elish Yako, although they are not decisive, deserve to be investigated. The enquiry continues, at a time when some people are claiming to have discovered his real name, which they say is “Salwan Majd,” a Muslim name. There is no more proof of this than of his Christian identity – or non-Christian identity, for that matter.
A source quoted by the French magazine Le Point, which claims to have contacted several of the attackers’ close relations, however asserts that the attacker was born in 1991, the descendant of a “prominent Syrian family from Fairuzah, a small Orthodox town near Homs.” According to a journalist from Homs who asked for his name to be changed “for security reasons” (why?) Abdelmasih Hanoun was not known as a criminal during his youth. All these details are also difficult to pin down.
There are indeed several possible scenarios: the attacker’s name is genuine, and he was born and raised in the Christian faith; the attacker, who like many is said to have arrived in Europe as an undocumented refugee, assumed a false identity in order to streamline his entry; or the attacker was a dormant terrorist who deliberately assumed a Christian identity and may have been assisted in this by his unknown patrons.