French police arrest suspect after car ploughs into soldiers patrolling Paris
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French police have searched the apartment block of a suspect shot and arrested on Wednesday after he ‘deliberately’ rammed his car into a group of soldiers, injuring six of them, in an upmarket Parisian suburb.
The assailant was unarmed when he was trapped by police late Wednesday some 260 km (162 miles) north of Paris where he had attacked the soldiers in the affluent suburb of Levallois-Perret, a judicial source said. One policeman was injured by a stray bullet during the operation. There was no immediate word on the suspect's condition.
A police official said the suspect may be an illegal North African immigrant in his 30s, while another said he was an Algerian with French residency papers. The government and prosecutors would not release information about his identity. However, the daily newspaper Le Parisien identified the suspect as 37-year-old Hamou B.
Late Wednesday, heavily-armed, masked police conducted a search of a building believed linked to the attacker in the Paris suburb of Bezons.
Targeting French troops
Patrick Balkany, mayor of Levallois-Perret, called Wednesday’s incident a “disgusting” act of aggression that was “without any doubt” premeditated.
The man appeared to have lain in wait for the soldiers in a pedestrian zone near their base in Levallois-Perret on the northwestern edge of the capital where France’s domestic counter-terrorism agency is based.
According to the Interior Minister, Gerard Collomb, the assailant accelerated his BMW car into the troops, who were starting their patrol, when they were a few metres away before speeding off and sparking a huge manhunt.
Local resident Tess Despres Pereira, who had witnessed the car-ramming incident from her apartment window, told FRANCE 24: “When I saw the soldiers on alert I realised something serious was happening."
“Some tended to the injured, while others sought to secure the neighbourhood. It’s a very disturbing thing to see. You don’t imagine this can happen in front of your home.”
Collomb later announced that a terrorism investigation had been launched.
Sentinel force still necessary
The soldiers targeted on Wednesday were part of Operation Sentinel, launched in the wake of Islamist attacks in Paris in early 2015. The Levallois-Perret attack was the 15th on troops and police in the last two-and-a-half years, many of them Islamic-State (IS) group inspired.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said Wednesday’s attack was proof there remained an active threat and that the 7,000-strong Sentinel force “was more necessary than ever”.
String of deadly attacks
Islamist militants or Islamist-inspired attackers have killed more than 230 people on French soil since January 2015, including one attack on Paris and another on the Riviera city of Nice.
Operation Sentinel has put heavily armed combat troops in public view as they patrol key sites in military fatigues, at an annual cost running into hundreds of millions of euros.
While it did not prevent the November 2015 attack when gunmen killed 130 people in Parisian cafes and a concert hall, Sentinel troops have disarmed or killed would-be "lone wolf" attackers on several occasions since.
There appears to have been an increase in these smaller, "lone wolf" attacks targetting France's security forces; just on Saturday a teenager with a history of psychological problems was arrested at the Eiffel Tower after brandishing a knife.
This year, assailants attacked soldiers at the Louvre Museum in Paris in February and at Orly airport in March. An assailant shot a policeman dead on the Champs Elysees in the capital in April.
France remains in a state of emergency and at its highest terror warning level.
France is also part of the US-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group and has carried out air strikes against the extremist group in Syria.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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