Man beheaded in 'Islamist' attack on French factory

Updated | A man carrying a black Islamist flag launched an attack on a gas factory in southeastern France this morning, decapitating one person and injuring several more, in what President Francois Hollande has described as "a terrorist attack".

The attack began after the suspect stormed the entrance of the Air Products gas factory compound, situated near the commune of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier between the southeastern French cities of Grenoble and Lyon, when a number of explosions were heard, possibly from gas canisters, according to Reuters.

A decapitated body was found within the compound of the factory and the head of the victim was discovered on the fence of the factory with Arabic inscribed on it, a legal source told AFP news agency. The message attached to the victim's head remains unknown.

The victim was the employer of the suspect, according to local French media reports, and the delivery firm that both men worked for reportedly made regular deliveries to the factory, which is owned by the American gas company.

French interior minister Bernard Cazaneuve, speaking from the scene of the attack, said that authorities believe the assailant is Yassine Sali, although his identity had not yet been officially confirmed.

Sali, 35 years old, was known to French intelligence services and was placed under surveillance for Islamist links in 2006 but this was stopped in 2008. Cazaneuve confirmed that the suspect was apprehended by a fireman and praised him for his "courage and... cool head".

"This person (Sali) was under investigation for radicalisation but this investigation was not renewed in 2008. He had no police record," he said.

Since the attack, Sali's partner has been taken into custody as well as another suspect who had been driving to and from the factory before the attack. Four people have been arrested in connection with the attack in total, according to French authorities, including Sahli's sister.

"We are nearly certain that Yassin entered the (Air Products) plant alone, and that there is no second attacker," police sources told Le Monde, despite earlier reports that there was a possibility of a second attacker.

The local French outlet La Dauphiné Libéré reported that the attacker is a sympathiser of 'Daesh', an Arabic term for terror group Isis, as the flag he was carrying depicted the group's infamous black and white logo.

In response to the attack, French prime minister Manuel Valls announced that authorities would heighten security at "sensitive" sites around the Rhône Alpes region, where both Lyon and Grenoble are situated.

French President Francois Hollande confirmed that he will return from the EU Summit in Brussels following the attack.

Speaking from Brussels, Hollande said: "We have no doubt that the attack was to blow up the building. It bears the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. We all remember what happened before in our country. There is therefore a lot of emotion."

An emergency meeting of France's defence council was scheduled to take place at the Élysée Palace this afternoon. French authorities have also opened a terrorism investigation into the incident.

The French president tweeted: "Our answer is action, prevention, deterrence and thus the need to carry our values and not to give in to fear, ever."

The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, reacted to the attack on social media, tweeting: "This dramatic attack, if confirmed, reminds us once again the presence of a fifth column in in France."

Air Products, the company who owns the factory, released a statement through a spokesperson after the attack to confirm the incident.

"We can confirm that an incident occurred at our facility in L'Isle-d'Abeau, France this morning," an Air Products spokesperson said.

"Our priority at this stage is to take care of our employees, who have been evacuated from the site and all accounted for."

The attack comes almost six months after the deadly Islamist attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris, leaving 17 people dead.