Motive a mystery as three French soldiers shot dead


FRENCH SOLDIERS stationed in the southwest of France have been told not to wear their uniforms outside barracks after three paratroopers were shot dead in the region.

Two uniformed soldiers in their mid-20s were shot dead and a third was seriously injured by a masked gunman on Thursday as they queued at a cash machine in the town of Montauban, close to the barracks of the 17th paratroop regiment.

Police confirmed yesterday that the same calibre weapon was used in a separate incident just days earlier in which a 30-year-old soldier was shot dead in the nearby city of Toulouse. In both attacks the shooter was on a scooter or motorbike.

Michel Valet, the public prosecutor of Toulouse, said authorities had not identified a suspect or a motive for the killing. “A link has been made with certainty between the two events in Toulouse and Montauban,” he said.

Two of the victims of Thursday’s attack – parachute sappers aged 26 and 24 – died on the spot, while a 28-year-old from the same regiment was left in a critical condition with spinal injuries. The soldiers were killed opposite their barracks.

Le Figaro reported that anti-terrorist police were working on the assumption that the killer was a “lone wolf”, but defence minister Gérard Longuest said no hypotheses were being ruled out.

Asked whether terrorism could be the motive, he replied: “Nothing permits us to rule out one theory or another.”

Montauban mayor Brigitte Barèges said the motive for the attack was a mystery. “No one understands. The regiment does not understand,” she said. “There’s never a valid explanation for murder, but we’re dealing with a true killer.”

According to witnesses to Thursday’s attack cited by the news agency AFP, the killer had time to turn over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away and fire three more shots into him before getting back on his scooter and making his escape.

“It’s senseless. They were boys with no history of trouble. They could have been my kids. The girlfriend of one of them [is] seven months pregnant,” said Ms Barèges.

Heightened security measures announced by the army yesterday will apply to a large swathe of the southwest, including Toulouse, Montauban and Tarbes, in an area where most of France’s elite airborne units are based.