French Police Arrest Suspect in Hit-and-Run Attack on Soldiers
Prosecutors are treating the ‘deliberate’ attack as an act of terrorism
Authorities on Wednesday arrested a man suspected of ramming a car into a group of soldiers in a suburb of the French capital, police officials said, potentially ending the manhunt in a case that prosecutors are treating as an act of terrorism.
The man was detained on a highway north of Paris, after police spotted and followed the car used in the morning attack, according to a police officer. The suspect, who tried to flee, was shot during the arrest, but is alive, the police officer added.
In the attack, a person behind the wheel of a dark-colored BMW waited in an alley near the soldiers’ local barracks in a municipal building across from a park, ambushing them around 8 a.m. local time, officials said.
The attack took place as about 10 soldiers walked to their vehicles to begin their patrol, said Patrick Balkany, the local mayor for the suburb of Levallois-Perret. The car initially crept around a corner to approach the soldiers, then in a burst of acceleration mowed them down and sped off, added French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
“We know it was a deliberate act. This was no accident,” Mr. Collomb said on French television. He added that soldiers said it appeared to them that there was only one man in the car, but he couldn’t immediately confirm their account.
Witnesses speaking on French TV described hearing a loud crash like a car accident, followed by shouts of military officers and the quick arrival of emergency services.
Three soldiers were seriously injured but their injuries weren’t life-threatening, Defense Minister Florence Parly said. She told journalists Wednesday afternoon that the prognosis for the three was “reassuring.”
Paris prosecutors are treating the attack as an act of terrorism, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said.
French President Emmanuel Macron is following the situation closely, said government spokesman Christophe Castaner.
The soldiers were among some 7,000 who have been deployed across the country to protect sensitive targets such as government offices, schools, places of worship and tourist attractions.
Levallois-Perret, with a population of more than 65,000, is a wealthy suburb of Paris that is also home to the country’s domestic-intelligence agency, the DGSI, which is less than half a mile from the scene of the attack. The suburb’s clean streets are monitored by a large number security cameras.
A string of attacks—including the Nov. 13, 2015, assault by Islamic State militants that killed 130 people in Paris and the truck attack in Nice that killed 86 on Bastille Day in July 2016—has put France on edge.
The government has declared and renewed a state of emergency, but the crackdown hasn’t stopped the drumbeat of periodic attacks.
There have been roughly a dozen in France since Nov. 2015, and more than half of those targeted military patrols or police. Three police officers were killed.
In June, two separate attackers targeted armed patrols near the Notre Dame Cathedral and on the Champs-Élysées, causing only minor injuries.
In April, a gunman opened fire on the Champs-Élysées, killing a police officer and wounding two other people. Police returned fire, killing the gunman, who was later identified as Karim Cheurfi, a French national. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the April attack, said SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the extremist group’s communications.
Wednesday’s incident is the second potential terrorist attack in just a few days in the Paris region. On Saturday night, a knife-wielding man attempted to force his way into the Eiffel Tower.
The man, who was shouting “Allahu akbar”—Arabic for “God is great”—was quickly detained by police and no one was harmed, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office said. The man, who has a history of psychological problems, later told police that he was targeting soldiers.