Beheading, explosion at factory in France; suspects captured

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Attack on Gas Company in France Investigated as Terrorism

SAINT-QUENTIN-FALLAVIER, France (AP) -- A man once flagged for ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a vehicle Friday into an American-owned gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of his employer was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said.

France immediately opened a terrorism investigation.

"Islamist terrorism has again struck France," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

The attack began shortly before 10 a.m. when the vehicle made it through the gate of the gas factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon. The vehicle then plowed into gas canisters, touching off the blast, President Francois Hollande said in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit.

"No doubt about the intention -- to cause an explosion," Hollande said, calling the attack "of a terrorist nature."

Photos from the scene of the attack:

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Beheading, explosion at factory in France; suspects captured
Police officers investigate at a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
French security stand next to the enclosed area where a decapitated body was found near the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French security and emergency services gather at the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Francois Hollande delivers a statement, following an emergency security meeting at the Elysee palace on June 26, 2015 in Paris, after an attack defined as 'Islamist terrorism' by the French prime minister hit a factory earlier in the day in the Rhone-Alpes region. Hollande announced he was raising the security level to 'attack' -- the highest possible -- in the region in which a gas factory was assaulted earlier on June 26. AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officer block the area where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. An attacker with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car into a gas factory Friday in southeastern France, and a severed head was staked on a post at the entrance, officials said. France immediately opened a terrorism investigation. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
A photo taken on June 26, 2015 shows the Air Products gas factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, after a suspected Islamist assault in which a decapitated head was pinned to the gates. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Investigating police officers work outside the plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. French authorities say one person has been beheaded in an attack and explosion at a gas factory in the southeastern part of the country. Officials say banners with Arabic writing were found near the body. Authorities have opened a terrorism investigation. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
French security stand next to the enclosed area where a decapitated body was found near the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Riot police officers block the area where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
A French police officer stands guard at the entrance of a street where criminal investigation police are carrying out a search at the home of a suspect in a neighborhood of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015, after a suspected Islamist assault on the nearby Air Products gas factory in which a decapitated head was pinned to the gates. At least one suspected Islamist launched a daylight raid on a gas factory in eastern France Friday, pinning a decapitated head to the gates and injuring at least two others with explosive devices. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Special forces of France's Research and Intervention Brigades (BRI) arrive at the building housing the apartment of a man suspected of carrying out an attack in Saint-Priest near Lyon on June 26, 2015. A 35-year-old man arrested in connection with the attack on the Air Products gas factory was investigated nine years ago for radicalisation and has links to the Salafist movement, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. He identified the suspect as Yacine Salhi, 35, who was known to have lived around Lyon, France's second largest city, near the site of the attack. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Special forces of France's Research and Intervention Brigades (BRI) escort an unidentified woman as they leave the building housing the apartment of a man suspected of carrying out an attack in Saint-Priest near Lyon on June 26, 2015. A 35-year-old man arrested in connection with the attack on the Air Products gas factory was investigated nine years ago for radicalisation and has links to the Salafist movement, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. He identified the suspect as Yacine Salhi, 35, who was known to have lived around Lyon, France's second largest city, near the site of the attack. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French President Francois Hollande delivers a statement, following an emergency security meeting at the Elysee palace on June 26, 2015 in Paris, after an attack defined as 'Islamist terrorism' by the French prime minister hit a factory earlier in the day in the Rhone-Alpes region. Hollande announced he was raising the security level to 'attack' -- the highest possible -- in the region in which a gas factory was assaulted earlier on June 26. AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (C) gives a press conference near the entrance of the Air Products gas factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier near Lyon, southeastern France, on June 26, 2015 after an attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at the factory. The suspect arrested in connection with the attack on a French gas factory was probed nine years ago for radicalisation and has links to the Salafist movement, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers guard the road leading to a plant where an attack took place in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France, Friday, June 26, 2015. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that caused injuries, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French police and firefighters gather at the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French police and firefighters secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers investigate at a plant where an attack took place, Friday, June 26, 2015 in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon, France. A man with suspected ties to French Islamic radicals rammed a car Friday into an American gas factory in southeastern France, triggering an explosion that injured two people, officials said. The severed head of a local businessman was left hanging at the factory's entrance, along with banners with Arabic inscriptions, they said. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
French security stand outside the enclosed area (R) where a decapitated body was found, near the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
French police secure the entrance of the Air Products company in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, central eastern France, on June 26, 2015. An attacker carrying an Islamist flag killed one person and injured several others at a gas factory in eastern France, according to a legal source. The suspected attacker entered the factory and set off several small explosive devices, the source said. A decapitated body was found nearby the factory, another source said. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZE (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
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The French president later raised the security alert for the southeastern region to its highest level for the next three days.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The severed head at the factory's entrance appeared to mimic the Islamic State group's practice of beheading prisoners and displaying their heads for all to see. The man's body was found elsewhere on the grounds.

A security official said two flags - one white and one black, both bearing Arabic inscriptions - were found nearby.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the main suspect - a man from the Lyon region who had been flagged in 2006 for suspected ties to radical Salafists - was seized by an alert firefighter. Cazeneuve said the suspect had been known to intelligence services, who had him under surveillance from 2006-08.

A French police official told The Associated Press that man in custody, Yassine Salhi, is a 30-something resident of the Lyon suburb of Saint-Priest.

Three French officials said the decapitated man ran a local transportation company that employed Salhi. The victim's name was not released. One official said he was believed to have been killed before the attack on the factory and was not killed by the explosion. The officials were not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity

Other people, including Salhi's wife, were seen on live television being taken into custody by police from his apartment building in Saint Priest hours after the attack.

"People who could have participated in this abject crime are in custody," Cazeneuve said, adding that security was also tightened Friday at religious sites around the country.

Still, French authorities did not say exactly how many people were taken into custody or if they were searching for more possible accomplices. Hollande said the key question was to determine whether there were any accomplices.

No further details were released about the two people injured in the explosion.

The gas factory belongs to Air Products, an American chemical company based in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The company said all its employees had been accounted for and were evacuated from the premises but did not say if any had been injured.

"The site is secure. Our crisis and emergency response teams have been activated and are working closely with all relevant authorities," the company said in a statement.

Air Products makes gases used by a wide range of industries, including food production, medicine and the oil and gas. It has more than 20,000 employees in 50 countries, mostly in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

The French security official said the suspect apparently miscalculated about how explosive the chemicals he smashed into would be. Hollande said a major explosion appeared to be the goal.

Security officials say they are increasingly worrying as much about disaffected people attacking alone or in pairs after becoming inspired by jihadi propaganda online as they do about attacks organized by terror groups.

France went on high alert in January after attacks against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery store and a policewoman that left 20 people dead in the Paris region, including three Islamic extremist attackers.

Since then, fears of copycat attacks have risen. One person was arrested in April after authorities said he was plotting to gun down people in churches in the Paris region.

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