A suspected lone wolf attacker who mowed down French soldiers was yesterday taken into custody after he was shot then arrested following a dramatic car chase.
Six French soldiers were injured, three seriously, when they were rammed by a car in what has been described as a deliberate attack. None are believed to be in a life-threatening condition.
Anti-terrorist prosecutors are leading the investigation, suggesting French authorities believe the attack is linked to extremism.
The unnamed attacker, who is believed to be in his thirties, was seriously wounded when police intercepted him as he attempted to escape by driving along the motorway towards the northern port of Calais. The BMW is said to have hit other vehicles during the chase and several ambulances attended the scene.
As he attempted to flee he was shot several times before police were able to arrest him. One officer was hit by a bullet.
Images show a BMW car, the model used in the attack, punctured with several bullet holes and the glass windscreen is severely damaged.
The soldiers were attacked as they left their barracks to start a street patrol under the state of emergency imposed following recent terror attacks.
The driver, who is believed to have operated as a ‘lone wolf’, appeared to have waited for them in a small side street near their base in the affluent Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret.
At around 8am local time, the car accelerated into the troops when they were a few meters away, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
"This was a deliberate act, not an accident," Mr Collomb said.
The area is home to France's domestic counter-terrorism agency. A large number of troops have been based there since the launch Operation Sentinel in the wake of attacks in Paris in 2015.
The attack occurred less than a kilometre from the headquarters of the General Direction of Interior Security, the French equivalent of the British domestic counter-intelligence and security agency MI5.
Jean-Claude Veillant, resident of an apartment building directly above the scene, witnessed part of the attack and said: "I heard a loud noise, the sound of scraping metal. Shortly after, I saw one of the badly wounded lying in front of the Vigipirate (army patrol) vehicle and another one behind it receiving treatment”.
There were unconfirmed reports that the BMW had hit a military vehicle first, pushing it into the soldiers.
Florence Parly, the defence minister, denounced “with the greatest firmness this cowardly act” and said she would be visiting the victims in hospital.
She said today's attack was proof the 7,000-strong Sentinel force "was more necessary than ever".
The attack came 24 hours after Ms Parly had announced plans to extend Opération Sentinelle.
France has been in a state of emergency since November 2015, which has seen soldiers patrolling in front of schools, places of worship, tourist attractions and other potential targets.
Soldier and police have become targets themselves, suffering from 15 attacks in Nice in southern France, Valence in central France, at the Louvre and at Paris Orly airport in the past two and a half years.
Last Saturday, a man tried to force his way into the Eiffel Tower with a knife, shouting "Allahu Akbar". It has been reported that he told investigators he wanted to kill a soldier.
Patrick Balkany, the mayor of Levallois-Perret, said: “This is an intolerable, incomprehensible act. It is an odious act. [The BMW] was visibly waiting for them when they left to go to their vehicle.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed the man apprehended is the chief suspect who drove straight at the soldiers in a dark BMW.
"A suspect who was driving the car involved in the attack has been arrested on the highway between Paris and Boulogne-sur-Mer," Philippe told lawmakers during parliament question time.
Although there has been no official end date for the State of Emergency, French newspaper Le Monde reported earlier this summer that President Emmanuel Macron’s government wanted to draw an end to it, in favour of integrating several of its anti-terrorism powers into common law.
A total of 239 people have been killed in terror attacks in France since January 2015. Jihadists have used vehicles as weapons on several occasions, notably on July 14, 2016 in Nice when 86 people died when a lorry drove into Bastille Day revellers.