Sarkozy vows punishment after soldier mistakenly shoots 17
The French president vows severe punishment for the shooting which was the result of unacceptable negligence.1 July 2008
CARCASSONNE - President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed severe punishment on Monday after 17 people were wounded when a French soldier mistakenly opened fire with live ammunition during a display at an army base.
The 28-year-old sergeant fired his assault rifle into a crowd of hundreds of visitors watching a mock hostage rescue operation Sunday at the base near the southwestern city of Carcassonne.
A three-year-old boy, who took bullets in the heart and in the arm, and both his parents were among the victims who were rushed to hospitals in the region, officials said.
After paying a visit to three wounded children at a hospital, Sarkozy said the shooting did not appear to be criminal but was the result of "unacceptable negligence", for which he promised a "rapid and severe response".
"This cannot go without consequences," he said, adding that the "entire chain of command" would have to provide answers.
Later on France 3 television, Sarkozy condemned the "extremely serious laxity" that led to the incident.
The sergeant who fired the shots from his FAMAS assault rifle was described as an experienced soldier with no history of behavioural or psychological problems.
He was held in custody overnight and prosecutors said they would press for a charge of causing unintentional harm when he appears before judges in Montpellier on Tuesday.
Three other soldiers also armed with assault rifles during the open-air display were released after police established that they had not fired live rounds.
Montpellier prosecutor Brice Robin said police were examining video footage of the shooting taken by another soldier and which showed the sergeant reloading his weapon after firing 25 shots.
"He was carrying several magazines and the tragedy is that he picked one that was in his pocket and which unfortunately carried live ammo," Robin told a news conference.
He said that the ammunition was kept from a military operation that the suspect had taken part in earlier this month and "should not have been left there. That is why he is being held."
Fifteen bystanders including five children were shot during the display as were two soldiers.
A witness, who asked not to be named, told AFP he saw seven or eight soldiers with guns taking part in the simulation, one of whom was posing as a terrorist in the middle of the spectators.
"Suddenly, people were falling, we thought it was part of the exercise, and then we saw blood," he said.
Immediately after the real shots were fired, "an official shouted out over the loudspeakers 'Cease fire!'," he said.
The three-year-old boy was operated on overnight and was in a stable condition, hospital officials said, adding that two of the victims were in a "serious" condition but all were stable.
Sarkozy said the families had the "right to know what happened", saying the shooting at the barracks was "of the utmost gravity".
The Third Marine Parachute Regiment was staging its sixth display of the mock hostage rescue on Sunday when the live-ammo shooting occurred.
"Everything went swimmingly until this sad sixth display," said Robin, who insisted that human error caused the injuries.
The head of army headquarters, General Bruno Cuche, opened an investigation to be carried out by army command to establish the circumstances of the shooting.
Four-star general Francois-Pierre Joly was appointed to lead the investigation and submit a report in one week that will establish the "failures and determine the responsibilities" in the incident.
Army spokesman Colonel Benoit Royal said the choice of a senior officer to carry out the investigation "showed the importance accorded" to the probe.
[AFP / Expatica]