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Sunday 22 October 2017

Terror suspect arrested on motorway after car rams into Paris soldiers

Police and rescue forces surround a bullet-riddled BMW on a French motorway. Photo: Reuters
Police and rescue forces surround a bullet-riddled BMW on a French motorway. Photo: Reuters

A car rammed into a group of soldiers in a suburb of Paris yesterday, injuring six, before speeding off and sparking a manhunt that a judicial source said ended with the suspect's arrest on a motorway.

In an attack that authorities said bore the stamp of terrorism, the driver appeared to have lain in wait for the soldiers in a pedestrian zone near their base in Levallois-Perret.

The affluent suburb in the north-west of Paris is home to France's domestic counter-terrorism agency.

Several dozen troops from Operation Sentinel, launched in the wake of Islamist attacks in Paris in early 2015, are based there.

Deliberate

The car accelerated into the troops, who were starting their patrol, when they were a few metres away, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters outside the hospital where the three more seriously injured victims were being treated.

"This was a deliberate act, not an accident," Mr Collomb said, adding that counter-terrorism investigators had taken up the case.

A judicial source said the unarmed suspect was arrested on a motorway in northern France following a manhunt.

A bullet-riddled BMW was pictured at the scene.

One policeman was injured by a stray bullet in the operation.

The Levallois-Perret attack was the 15th on soldiers and police since they were deployed in large numbers nationwide after a series of Islamist militant attacks over the past two-and-a-half years.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said yesterday's attack was proof there remained an active threat and that the 7,000-strong Sentinel force was "more necessary than ever".

Three soldiers had light injuries, Ms Parly said, while three others were more gravely hurt - but not as seriously as previously thought.

Levallois-Perret mayor Patrick Balkany called it a "disgusting" act of aggression that was "without any doubt" premeditated.

Jean-Claude Veillant, a resident of an apartment ­building directly above the scene, ­witnessed part of the attack.

"I heard a loud noise, the sound of scraping metal," Mr Veillant said.

"Shortly after, I saw one of the badly wounded lying in front of the Vigipirate [army patrol] vehicle and another one behind it receiving treatment."

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 French combat troops in public view, as they patrol key sites in military fatigues, at an annual cost running into hundreds of millions of euro.

While it did not prevent the November 2015 attack in which gunmen killed 130 people in Parisian cafes and a concert hall, Sentinel troops have disarmed or killed would-be attackers on several occasions.

Assailant

These include a February incident in which a machete-wielding assailant attacked soldiers outside the Louvre art museum, and another last Saturday at the Eiffel Tower.

An assailant also shot a policeman dead on the Champs-Elysees avenue in the capital in April.

Levallois-Perret is just 5km from city centre landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Elysee presidential palace.

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