New terror as knifeman kills two women at train station
Two women were stabbed to death and their assailant shot dead by a soldier in Marseille in the latest terrorist attack on French soil.
Police sources said the suspect had shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) in Arabic as he attacked the women, aged 17 and 20, at Marseille's main railway station.
Two police sources said one had her throat slit while the other was stabbed in the chest and stomach.
The assailant was shot dead by a soldier from a military Sentinelle patrol, a force deployed across the country as part of a state of emergency declared after Islamist attacks that began almost two years ago.
"We have until now managed to avoid such dramatic incidents (in Marseille). I think it was a terrorist attack and the individual who was killed seems to have had several identities," Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin said.
Paris was rocked in 2015 by multiple attacks that killed 130 people. In 2016 a gunman drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 86 people. Both of these attacks were claimed by Isil.
Other countries, including Britain, Germany and Belgium, have also suffered attacks by militants using knives, guns, explosives and driving vehicles at crowds.
Some 200 police officers cordoned off the area and all roads were closed to traffic.
A witness said she saw a man take out a knife from his sleeve and then stab a young girl and then a second woman, shouting what could have been "Allahu Akbar".
Another witness described how the attacker grabbed one of his victims from behind and slit her throat. "She couldn't have seen a thing," the witness added. "She was lying in a pool of blood as I ran away," she said. "I heard two shots fired. It must have been the soldiers."
A third witness said: "People came out of the waiting room shouting 'Run! Don't stay in the station. Everybody outside'.
"I had just arrived at the station when everyone started running.
"People outside on the terrace came inside and shouted 'Run, get out!' Then I saw a woman on the floor, they were giving her CPR."
Speaking in Marseille, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the man had initially killed one woman and looked to be running away before returning to attack a second woman and then rush towards soldiers from the Sentinelle force who arrived quickly and shot him dead.
Two police sources said the attacker had been carrying a butcher's knife, was aged about 30 and of North African appearance. He was known to the authorities for theft, drug dealing and other crimes but had not been flagged up as a potential terrorist.
"This could be an act of terrorism, but we cannot confirm it fully at this stage," Mr Collomb said.
French troops are part of a US-led coalition fighting Isil in Syria and Iraq and has thousands of soldiers in West Africa fighting al-Qa'ida-linked militants, operations that have made these groups urge their followers to target France. Security forces have increasingly been targeted by militants. A man with a knife attacked a soldier in Paris on September 15.
President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter he was "disgusted by this barbaric act" and praised the calmness and efficiency of security forces.
French MPs are due to vote on a much-criticised anti-terrorism law tomorrow, which would see France emerge from its state of emergency, although some of the powers would be enshrined into law.
The number of military personnel on the ground is also due to be reduced slightly, although the force is being adapted to make it more mobile and its movements less predictable.
"The presence of Sentinelle soldiers, their speed and efficiency ensured that the death count was not bigger," police union official Stephane Battaglia said.