Ten injured in van attack on French Christmas market

22nd December 2014, Comments 0 comments

A driver ploughed into a Christmas market in western France Monday, injuring 10 people before stabbing himself, a day after a man shouting "Allahu Akbar" ran down pedestrians in another French city.

At least four people were badly hurt in the latest incident in the city of Nantes, the third attack in three days by individuals against civilians or security forces in France, sparking fears of possible copycat action.

On Sunday a man drove into pedestrians on the streets of the eastern city of Dijon, injuring 13. The driver was suffering from a severe psychological disorder, a prosecutor said, easing concerns that the attack was inspired by Islamic extremism.

On Saturday, a man was shot dead by police after walking into a police station in the central town of Joue-les-Tours and attacking three officers with a knife while yelling "Allahu Akbar".

Authorities in Nantes stressed there were no indications of a terrorist link in the Christmas market attack.

"We cannot speak of a terrorist act," local prosecutor Brigitte Lamy told reporters at the scene, saying that initial evidence pointed instead to an "isolated case" which was "of the same kind as the one that took place in Dijon".

President Francois Hollande has urged the public not to panic while government spokesman Stephane Le Foll has warned against "lumping them (attacks) together".

Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated the appeal for "coolheadedness" after the Christmas market attack.

That attack in France's sixth-biggest city took place at around 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) as people across the country thronged shops and markets in search of last-minute Christmas presents.

The van driver charged at a chalet serving hot wine, in front of which several people had congregated, a witness told AFP.

A source close to the investigation said that, after slamming into the shoppers, he stabbed himself "at least nine times", causing himself serious injuries.

- No 'specific demand' -

Lamy said the attacker was known to police, without specifying why, and said he had not voiced "any specific demand".

Investigators were examining a notebook found next to the white van, she added.

The three attacks have jarred nerves in France after repeated threats against the country over its involvement in the fight against Islamic extremists in Africa and the Middle East.

The man behind Saturday's attack in Joue-Les-Tours, identified as Bertrand Nzohabonayo, a Burundian convert to Islam, apparently shouted "Allahu Akbar" -- an Islamic phrase meaning "God Is Greatest" that has been used by Islamist fighters in wars or by extremists when waging violent attacks

Two police were seriously injured in the assault while a third officer was lightly hurt.

Sunday's attack in Dijon by a man shouting the same slogan sparked fears of more attacks by individuals possible responding to calls for violence by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

Bertrand Nzohabonayo had posted an IS flag on his Facebook page last week.

A legal resident in France, he was known for petty crime but was not on a domestic intelligence watchlist although his brother Brice, who was arrested in Burundi after the attack, is known for his radical views.

Nzohabonayo's mother had told authorities in August last year that she was worried about Brice's influence on his brother, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.

- 'Acted for Chechnya children' -

But French authorities moved quickly to quash speculation about the country being under attack.

A prosecutor in Dijon said the 40-year-old driver of the car who targeted passers-by at five different locations on Sunday had been to psychiatric hospital 157 times and had no known links to jihadist groups.

She said he told police that he ploughed into people due to a sudden "outburst of empathy for the children of Chechnya" and had shouted "Allahu Akbar" to give him courage.

"He was not guided by religion but because he felt that politically he had to react," she said.

The Islamic State jihadist group has repeatedly called for attacks against France, most recently in a video posted on jihadist sites.

Valls said Monday that more than 1,000 nationals were involved in one way or another with jihad in Syria or Iraq, of whom 56 or 57 have since died.

"We have never known such serious danger where terrorism is concerned," he said.


© 2014 AFP

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