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French prosecutor rules out terror link in Dijon car rampage

Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, AFP | Police inspect the site where the driver ploughed into a crowd on December 11.

A driver who rammed a crowd of pedestrians while shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) in France's eastern city of Dijon had a history of severe mental illness, a prosecutor said Monday, ruling out a "terrorist act".

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“This is absolutely not an act of terrorism,” Prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare told reporters during a press conference, adding that the man had a "long-lasting and severe psychological disorder" and had been hospitalised over 150 times since 2002.

She also said he had acted alone and did not have any religious motives when he ran down 13 pedestrians in Dijon on Sunday.

Coming just two days after a suspected Islamist attack on police officers in central France, the prosecutor's words eased concerns the Dijon attack may have been inspired by Islamic extremism.

According to police, the man had targeted groups of passersby at five different locations in the city in a rampage that lasted around half an hour.

Tarrare said the suspect’s motives were “relatively vague and unclear” but that he was upset at the treatment of Chechen children.

According to Tarrare, the suspect told police he had cried “Allahu Akbar” to give himself the courage to act.

“He doesn’t deny deliberately ramming pedestrians,” she said, adding that he “hasn’t expressed any regrets.”

The prosecutor said the driver, the 40-year-old French-born son of North African immigrants, had only begun to shown interest in religion a few days prior to the attack.

Police said they had found no sign of extremist Islamist affiliation after searching his car and home.

“What we are dealing with here is an isolated act of a mentally unstable person, who has been ill for more than 10 years and who has received care for that, and who – until now – has not been known for violent acts,” Tarrare said.

The suspect is still being held by police. Eight people remained in hospital on Monday, none of whom were said to be in a serious condition.

'Lone wolf' fears

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited Dijon on Monday, an indication of the government's heightened concerns two days after a French convert to Islam attacked police officers with a knife in the central town of Joue-les-Tours.

The assailant, Burundi-born French national Bertrand Nzohabonayo, seriously injured two officers – slashing one in the face – and wounded another, before being shot dead by police.

The 20-year-old attacker also cried "Allahu Akbar" during the assault, said a source close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The assault prompted the government to step up security at police and fire stations nationwide.

Nzohabonayo had previously committed petty offences but was not on a domestic intelligence watchlist, although his brother is known for his radical views and once pondered going to Syria, the source said.

On Monday, Burundi authorities said they had arrested Nzohabonayo’s brother Brice in the capital, Bujumbura, according to FRANCE 24’s sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI).

The anti-terror branch of the Paris prosecutor's office has opened a probe into Saturday's attack, with the line of inquiry focusing on whether it was motivated by radical Islam.

The weekend incidents in France come as governments around the world brace for so-called "lone wolf" attacks by individuals returning from waging jihad abroad.

The Islamic State (IS) group has urged its followers to carry out attacks in the countries involved in a coalition fighting its militants in Iraq and Syria.

The group has repeatedly singled out France for such attacks, most recently in a video posted on jihadist sites this week.
 

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