Profile: Abdelhakim Dekhar harks back to violent French past

Abdelhakim Dekhar (left) in 1994 and today
Image caption Abdelhakim Dekhar is seen here (left) in 1994 and today

The reappearance of the long-forgotten Abdelhakim Dekhar takes France back to a different era, and to what - seen from today - looks like a disastrous last stand for post-60s romantic revolutionary violence.

Twenty years ago Dekhar - born in eastern France of Algerian parents - was a drifter who went by the nickname Toumi.

Hanging out in squats with members of the alternative far left, he got to know a couple of young bourgeois radicals called Florence Rey and Audry Maupin.

They were at the tail-end of a movement whose heyday in Europe had been the 1970s, when liberation theory convinced many a middle-class student that ends did indeed justify means.

What happened next is disputed. According to some accounts, it was Toumi who shaped their political thought and talked Rey and Maupin into action.

What is certain is that he bought the shotgun that served as their first weapon (oddly it was from the ultra-respectable La Samaritaine department store). After that - on the night of 4 October 1994 - the couple left on their bungled hold-up.

Dekhar possibly acted as look-out in the initial phase (when they tried to rob security guards at a car pound of their guns) but he quickly disappeared when the venture went wrong, with five people dead.

What has never been determined is how fully - if at all - Dekhar believed what he preached about the revolution.

London job

From psychological assessments made at the time of his trial - and from the accounts of police and journalists who worked on the case - what emerges is a young man who is not so much a political fanatic as a very persuasive fantasist.

"He was deeply involved in the alternative set," said crime reporter Marie-Sophie Tellier, who made a TV documentary on the case.

Image caption Maupin (R) was killed in a 1994 shootout but Rey was released from jail

"But the real revolutionaries never trusted him, and they kept him at arm's length. They regarded him as delusional."

At his trial, Dekhar protested his innocence. He denied acting as look-out, and said he had infiltrated the far left on instructions from the Algerian secret services. No-one believed him.

He was convicted in 1998 and imprisoned for four years but, as that was the period he had by then served in pre-trial custody, he was released straight away.

After that Dekhar disappears from the radar. It seems clear he has spent at least part of the last 15 years in the United Kingdom. At one point we know he was working at a restaurant in London.

And now - out of the blue - he is back.

So what can have pushed Dekhar to take up the shotgun once again, as he is alleged to have done? A festering sense of injustice over the outcome of his trial? New political grudges?

Of the times?

A clue will come from the two letters that he left before the apparent suicide attempt.

According to justice officials, these are rambling diatribes in which Dekhar blames a "fascist plot" for causing society's ills, such as the problems in the high-immigration banlieues.

He also talks at length about the conflicts in the Arab world and significantly, given his choice of targets, he blames the media for "manipulating the masses".

Once again - it would seem - Dekhar has devised a DIY ideology with bits of "alternative" theory. A narcissistic sense of his own personal mission in the world may then have impelled him to act.

"This is an essentially anti-social personality type," said criminologist Jean-Pierre Bouchard, "who constructs an argument around all sorts of pseudo-political or pseudo-religious ideas.

"These people are extremely adept at manipulation. They invent stories about themselves. They can be very convincing but need to be treated with extreme caution."

But why now? Why did Dekhar wait 15 years to start apparently making his point again?

Maybe it will turn out that there was some personal change in his circumstances? Maybe he lost a job, or his mind was warped by drugs?

Or maybe coming back to France from the United Kingdom triggered some emotional spasm?

But, according to some experts, his alleged action may also be explained by the difficult social and economic times.

According to criminologist Xavier Raufer: "Every time in history in which there are periods of agitation or tumult or chaos or social tension, you see this type of individual appear. It's not that they are created by the times - but the times are what push them to act."

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