A French soldier patrolling a business neighborhood west of Paris was stabbed in the neck and injured on Saturday by a man who fled the scene and is being sought by police, President Francois Hollande said.
The 23-year-old was patrolling in uniform with two other soldiers as part of France’s Vigipirate anti-terror surveillance plan when he was approached from behind around 6 p.m. and attacked with a knife or a box-cutter.
A police union spokesman said surveillance footage of the attacker showed him as tall and bearded, aged about 35, possibly of North African origin and wearing a white Arab-style tunic.
Three days after a British soldier was killed in a London street by two men who said they acted to avenge violence against Muslims, the attack near Paris raised questions about a possible copycat attempt to kill a French soldier.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls noted the similarity in an interview on France2 TV saying the attacker was clearly trying to murder his victim, but he added that it was too early to offer any theories.
“Let’s be prudent for now,” Valls said of the attacker’s identity and motivations. “Everything is being done to arrest this individual.”
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told journalists near the site of the attack: “The soldier was attacked because he is a soldier.”
France is on high alert for attacks by Islamist militants following its military intervention in Mali in January, which prompted threats against French interests from AQIM, the North African wing of al Qaeda.
The latest warning was published on YouTube a few weeks before armed gunmen this week attacked a military base and a French uranium extraction site in the central African state of Niger, killing 24 soldiers and one civilian.
Valls said France would retain its current terror alert level at “red, reinforced”, one step down from “scarlet”, which is only activated in case of a serious and confirmed attack.