An Algerian national was arrested in France on Wednesday on suspicion of starting a mass vehicle fire in a parking lot that resulted in the death of a young Parisian firefighter who attended the scene.
Dorian Damelincourt, a 24-year-old firefighter from the Paris Fire Brigade (BSPP), died of cardio-respiratory arrest on July 3 after being dispatched to the suspected arson attack in Saint-Denis.
At around 2:45 a.m., a fire was reported in the underground parking lot of a social housing apartment block in the troubled Parisian suburb, resulting in the torching of 23 vehicles as a large firefighting presence tackled the blaze.
Following the death of Master Corporal Dorian Damelincourt, a police investigation concluded that the fire had been deliberate after locating a lighter and a jerrycan of gasoline near the scene.
Nearby video surveillance footage caught a suspect with their face hidden and wearing sneakers with red soles accessing the parking lot moments before the incident. The same individual was also spotted earlier that day removing a vehicle from the scene, which was not destroyed in the attack.
Police identified a 49-year-old Algerian national named Meftah I. as their main suspect and arrested him on suspicion of arson on Wednesday.
A resident of the apartment block, the suspect is understood to have racked up rental debt of close to €17,000 and had been the subject of eviction proceedings, which were effected on Sept. 22.
A previous fire at the premises back in 2015 had resulted in tenants receiving substantial financial compensation, which police believe may have been a factor in the attack.
“During the previous incident, the lessor had granted reimbursements to the tenants for several years, which provided a hypothetical motive for the respondent,” noted a police source cited by the Valeurs Actuelles magazine.
It is also thought that the arson attack was designed to coincide with the ongoing riots in the French capital at the time fueled by the death of migrant teenager Nahel Merzouk, who was shot at point-blank range by police during an attempted traffic stop.
Investigators found clothing in the suspect’s apartment consistent with garments worn by the individual caught on surveillance footage on the day of the attack, and cans of gasoline were retrieved from his belongings in the underground parking lot.
During a police interview, Meftah denied the arson allegations. However, several residents of the building, including his roommate and the building caretaker, positively identified the suspect as the man in the surveillance images based on his clothing.
Meftah was brought before a Parisian court on Friday and placed in pre-trial detention at the Fleury-Mérogis prison in the south of the French capital.