Tuesday 20 February 2018

Knifeman targets French soldiers

Soldiers stand guard after an attacker with a knife hidden in his bag attacked three soldiers in Nice, southern France (AP)
Soldiers stand guard after an attacker with a knife hidden in his bag attacked three soldiers in Nice, southern France (AP)

Three soldiers on an anti-terror patrol in the southern French city of Nice were attacked by a man with a knife, police said.

The extent of the soldiers' injuries is not yet clear.

The attacker was detained but two people with him are believed to have fled after the stabbing in the city centre, near the Galeries Lafayette department store.

France has been on high alert since the attacks in the Paris region by three Islamic extremists that left 20 people dead, including the gunmen.

More than 10,000 soldiers have been deployed around the country to protect sensitive locations, including major shopping areas, synagogues, mosques and transit hubs.

Earlier, French authorities arrested seven men and a woman suspected of involvement in a network to send fighters to join Islamic extremists in Syria.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said those arrested in the Paris and Lyon areas are not suspected of links to the January 7-9 attacks.

Police are trying to thwart new violence and find possible accomplices to three radical Islamic gunmen who attacked a kosher grocery store and newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The men claimed allegiance to extremists in the Middle East.

Three of those arrested on Tuesday had travelled to Syria and returned in December 2014, a French official said, though it was unclear whether they joined the Islamic State group or another group.

The network began sending French fighters to Syria in May 2013, and at least one of them was killed there, the official said. Other members of the network are still in Syria.

The group did not appear to be involved in any particular plot, or linked to any other networks already broken up in France in recent months, said the official.

France has seen hundreds of home-grown radicals join extremists abroad, most linked to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Mr Cazeneuve said recent atrocities by the Islamic State group - including the killing of a Japanese hostage - "only strengthen the government's determination to fight terrorism every day and every hour".

French authorities have come under criticism for being overzealous in cracking down on potential threats since the attacks, arresting dozens for comments seen as defending terrorism and notably questioning an eight-year-old boy.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi later said the soldiers' attacker had an identity card with the name Moussa Coulibaly.

The surname, which is relatively common for families of Malian descent, is the same as that of the man who seized hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris and gunned down a policewoman last month.

Another police official said the attacker pulled a knife at least eight inches long out of a bag and set upon one of the soldiers, injuring him in the chin.

He then swiped two other soldiers - one in the cheek, the other in the forearm - before being apprehended by riot police stationed near the building, which houses the city's Jewish community centre.

A manager at the centre, who did not want to be identified because she was afraid, confirmed soldiers posted in front of the building were attacked. She said it happened around lunchtime and no one was inside the office.

Mayor Estrosi told BFM television that a possible accomplice had been detained.

A French security official said the soldiers' suspected attacker had been sent home by Turkish authorities last week after flying in on a one-way ticket.

Turkey is a transit point for jihadis from Europe to join up with Islamic extremist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Border police had flagged Coulibaly to their Turkish counterparts on January 28, who promptly returned him home, the official said.

French authorities, however, were unable to turn up enough evidence against Coulibaly to open a legal case against him.

Press Association

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