Tuesday, December 23, 2014 1:01 am
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.
Authorities were quick to stress there were no apparent terrorist motives in the Christmas market attack.
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. He too had yelled “Allahu Akbar”.
“We cannot speak of a terrorist act,” local prosecutor Brigitte Lamy told reporters at the scene of the latest incident, saying that initial evidence pointed instead to an “isolated case”.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking in Nantes, said the attacker appeared to be “unbalanced” and not motivated by politics or religion.
President Francois Hollande asked the premier to convene an emergency cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the attacks.
Hollande has urged the French public not to panic while Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated an appeal for “cool-headedness”.
The latest attack happened in France’s sixth-biggest city at around 7 pm (1800 GMT) as people across the country thronged shops and markets in search of last-minute Christmas presents.
The van driver sped towards a chalet serving hot wine, where several people had gathered, a witness told AFP.
“I just saw the car charging into the stand, completely ramming into people,” an elderly woman said.
A source close to the investigation said that, after slamming into the shoppers, the driver stabbed himself “at least nine times”, causing himself serious injuries.
– No ‘specific demand’ –
Lamy said the attacker was known to police and had not voiced “any specific demand”.
Investigators were examining a notebook found next to the white van, she said, adding that one of those injured was fighting for their life in hospital.
A source close to the investigation said the driver was 37 years old and had come into contact with the police in 2006 for theft and the handling of stolen goods and again in 2008 for vehicle damage.
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.