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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-15

Two uniformed French soldiers were killed and another was wounded after someone riding a scooter opened fire at them on a busy street before driving off in the southwestern city of Montauban Thursday.

REUTERS - Two uniformed French soldiers were shot dead and a third seriously injured by a gunman on Thursday as they tried to withdraw money from a cash machine in the town of Montauban in southwest France, the defence ministry said.

Two paratroopers died on the spot after being shot in the head by the unidentified gunman on a scooter, who wore a helmet with the visor pulled down, police sources said.

The third soldier was rushed to hospital in Montauban where he was in a critical condition, a ministry spokesman said. The ministry had said earlier in a statement that the third paratrooper had died, but it later retracted this.

The shooter did not take any money and there was no immediate indication of the motive for the rare attack. The shooting took place at 2 p.m. (1300 GMT) near the barracks of the 17th parachute regiment, to which the victims -- aged between 24 and 28 -- belonged.

"The circumstances are confused and at the current time I cannot give you any explanation," President Nicolas Sarkozy told journalists during a visit to the Marne in eastern France, adding that he had sent Defence Minister Gerard Longuet to Montauban to direct operations.

Investigators found some 15 spent pistol cartridges at the scene of the shooting and said it appeared the gunman had been waiting for his victims, according to an official from the local mayor's office.

"There were two rounds of shots. One from a long way which brought down the first two soldiers and a second from closer which wounded the third soldier," the official told Reuters.

Police set up roadblocks around Montauban, which lies some 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Spanish border, in a major deployment to hunt for the gunman. The incident came days after a 30-year-old soldier in civilian clothes was shot dead in the nearby city of Toulouse at the weekend.

Defence Minister Longuet condemned the assassination and said he hoped those responsible would be swiftly brought to justice.

In recent years, France has been spared guerrilla attacks of the kind seen in neighbouring Spain, where armed Basque separatist group ETA said last year it was abandoning four decades of armed struggle and asked for talks with the Spanish and French government.

Date created : 2012-03-15


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