Driver attacks French soldiers
Suspect shot, detained after vehicle rams into security forces
LEVALLOIS-PERRET, France — A man rammed his car into a group of soldiers near Paris on Wednesday, injuring six of them, then was cornered by police in a highway manhunt — the latest in a series of attacks targeting French security forces.
It’s unclear what motivated the driver, who was hospitalized with bullet wounds after the morning ambush and an hourslong police chase. Authorities said he deliberately accelerated his BMW into a cluster of soldiers in what prosecutors are investigating as a terrorist attack.
President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to express his “congratulations to the forces of order that apprehended the perpetrator of the attack” and to urge continued vigilance across the country.
Macron’s government painted the incident as proof of the need to approve a new security law that critics contend infringes on liberties and would put France in a permanent state of emergency.
Wednesday’s attack caused no deaths and hurt no civilians. But it was the seventh attempted attack this year on security forces guarding France. While others have targeted prominent sites like the Eiffel Tower, Wednesday’s attack hit the relatively affluent suburb of Levallois-Perret that is home to France’s main intelligence service, the DGSI, and its counterterrorism service.
“We know it was a deliberate act,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said. Defense Minister Florence Parly called it a reminder that extra security measures imposed in recent years are “more necessary than ever.”
On a quiet summer morning, the man was seen waiting in a black BMW in a cul-desac near the Levallois City Hall and a building used as a staging point for soldiers in France’s operation to protect prominent sites, according to two police officials, who like others connected to the case weren’t authorized to be publicly named because of the ongoing police operation.
A group of soldiers emerged from the building to board vehicles for a new shift when the car sped up and rammed into them, its force hurling the soldiers against their van, one of the officials said. Collomb said the car first approached slowly, then sped up about 5 yards from its targets.
A nearby resident described hearing a scream of pain, then soldiers chasing after the car.
Authorities checked video surveillance of the area and police fanned out and stopped numerous cars as they searched for the attacker.
Then, on the A16 highway near the English Channel port of Calais, police stopped what Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called the “principal suspect.” Images of the arrest scene showed emergency vehicles surrounding a black BMW with a damaged windshield, on a cordoned-off rural highway.
Police officers opened fire during the arrest to subdue the man, and he was injured along with an officer hit by a stray bullet, a judicial official said.
The assailant was hospitalized, the official said, but his condition wasn’t immediately clear. Authorities have not identified him.
On Wednesday night, heavily armed, masked police in the Paris suburb of Bezons searched a building believed to be linked to the attacker.
The defense minister said she received “reassuring” news about the condition of the injured soldiers, and that their lives aren’t in danger.
The soldiers were from the 35th infantry regiment and served in Operation Sentinelle, created to guard prominent French sites after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks in 2015.
A witness to the car attack, Nadia LeProhon, was startled by a loud crash outside her building and rushed to her seventh-floor window to see two soldiers on the ground. Other soldiers ran after a speeding car, shouting: “After him! Follow that car!”
“I’ll never forget that scream — a scream of pain and distress,” she said.
Resident Jean-Claude Veillant said he saw two uniformed soldiers on the ground. “It was horrible,” he said, adding that both soldiers appeared to be in bad shape and that one of them was unconscious.
Counterterrorism prosecutors opened an investigation on potential charges of attempted murder of security forces in connection with a terrorist enterprise, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
Philippe said that despite a sustained “high threat” against France, the government is sticking to plans to lift a 21-month state of emergency.
Speaking to lawmakers, he insisted that a new bill enshrining permanent counterterrorism measures would be enough to replace the state of emergency, imposed after deadly Islamic extremist attacks in November 2015. The bill is currently under parliamentary debate, ahead of an expected end to the state of emergency on Nov. 1.
Macron discussed the attack at a security meeting Wednesday and at a weekly Cabinet meeting.
France has endured a series of terror attacks since early 2015, mostly claimed by the Islamic State extremist group, that have killed more than 230 people.
There have been no attacks on civilian targets this year, but several mostly unsuccessful attacks have targeted security forces.
In April, a policeman was shot dead on the Champs-Elysees by a man with a long criminal record, who investigators determined had terrorist motives.
Failed attacks by individuals have also taken place on police and soldiers on the Champs-Elysees, near the Louvre museum, outside Notre Dame cathedral and at the Orly airport.
A man wielding a knife was arrested Saturday after trying to force his way through a security checkpoint at the Eiffel Tower.
Anti-terrorism prosecutors are also looking into that incident. The suspect has been sent to a psychiatric hospital where he was previously being treated.
French security forces and emergency responders surround a black BMW on Wednesday after an hourslong chase near Paris. Authorities said the driver, who was shot during the arrest, had earlier rammed into a group of soldiers, injuring six. Prosecutors are investigating the assault as a terrorist attack.
A French soldier stands near the scene where French soldiers were hit and injured by a vehicle Wednesday in the western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret near Paris.