French investigators were working to determine the recipient’s identity, but weren’t able to immediately confirm media reports that it was an unspecified person now in Syria, where the radical Islamic State group has seized territory, the security officials said.
The revelation added a macabre twist to an investigation that has not turned up a solid link to radical or foreign groups, but has revived concerns about terrorism in France less than six months after deadly attacks in the Paris area.
Top suspect Yassine Salhi, a truck driver with a history of radical Islamic ties, as well as his sister and wife remained in police custody in the city of Lyon, a day after he allegedly crashed a truck into a U.S.-owned chemical warehouse and hung his employer’s severed head on a factory gate, officials said.
One of the officials said the selfie was forwarded via WhatsApp, the globally popular instant messaging system owned by Facebook, to a phone number in Canada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
No group immediately claimed responsibility.
Paris prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said the leading suspect began speaking with investigators after first refusing to do so. She declined to provide details, but said investigators haven’t found any foreign connection.
The site of the beheading wasn’t yet known to investigators, and the victim had been strangled beforehand, she said.
A fourth person arrested Friday was released without being charged. Under French anti-terrorism laws, Salhi and the women can be held up to four days before either being released or handed preliminary charges and locked up.
President Francois Hollande’s office said he will convene a meeting with top parliamentary leaders about the matter on Tuesday.