Man shot and arrested near Calais after car hits soldiers in Paris

Suspect seriously injured during arrest after BMW earlier drove into soldiers in capital

Counter-terrorism prosecutors have been assigned to a hit-and-run incident that left six soldiers injured in a Parisian suburb on Wednesday, August 9th. Video: Reuters

 

An attack on Wednesday morning on a French army patrol in a Paris suburb culminated four hours later with the wounding and arrest of the assailant on the highway to Calais.

The attacker was identified as Hamou Benlatreche, a 37-year-old Algerian citizen. Le Parisien newspaper published a photograph of a man with a bushy black beard. Benlatreche's name does not appear on the watchlist of 18,500 suspected radicals, but he was listed as an illegal alien.

At 7.57am, video surveillance cameras showed, the suspect drove slowly in a rented black BMW towards the low-income housing building in Levallois-Perret, on the northeastern perimeter of Paris, which soldiers assigned to the anti-terrorist Opération Sentinelle have used as a billet for the past 2½ years.

When the attacker saw 10 soldiers emerge from the building, he accelerated and crashed into them. No shots were fired. Six soldiers were injured, three of them seriously. Their lives are not in danger.

Inhabitants of the upper floors of the building took photographs of the soldiers lying on the ground, in combat fatigues and bullet-proof vests. The images were shown on French television, with faces blurred.

The attack car drove away at speed. It was located several hours later by the rental company’s GPS, heading for Calais on the A16 motorway.

When the BMW reached a barricade near the town of Marquise in the Pas-de-Calais department at 1.10pm, the driver tried to crash into a police car. Police opened fire, hitting him with five bullets. He was taken to hospital in Lille and is in serious condition. A policeman was wounded in the thigh by “friendly fire”.

‘Terrorist undertaking’

The anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office in Paris was assigned to investigate an “attempted assassination of persons representing public authority, in connection with a terrorist undertaking”.

The attack occurred a few hundred metres from the Levallois town hall, and 800 metres from the national General Direction for Interior Security (DGSI). Levallois “is the seat of the anti-terrorist struggle in France”, noted Patrick Balkany, the town’s mayor.

Troops of Opération Sentinelle have been attacked at least eight times since they began patrolling France in the wake of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre. The first assailant assaulted soldiers guarding a Jewish centre in Nice with a knife. Other attacks occurred in Valence, at the Louvre last February and at Orly Airport in March.

On April 20th, three days before the first round of the presidential election, a jihadist killed a policeman and wounded three people on the Champs-Élysées.

On August 5th, a 19-year-old who was on leave from the psychiatric hospital where he was interned threatened soldiers at the Eiffel Tower.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing Front National, seized upon Wednesday’s attack to criticise reductions in the defence budget. “It is time to tackle the gigantic problem of Islamist terrorism at the root,” Ms Le Pen said in a communiqué.

Defence minister Florence Parly said the “cowardly act” in Levallois “in no way diminishes the determination of the military to work for the security of French people”.