France deploys extra troops on streets after three attacks

‘There is a terrorist threat in France,’ says prime minister Valls as soldiers seek to stop copycats

French prime minister Manuel Valls said that between 200 and 300 more military personnel would be deployed, in addition to 780 already on the streets as part of routine year-end precautions. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

French prime minister Manuel Valls said that between 200 and 300 more military personnel would be deployed, in addition to 780 already on the streets as part of routine year-end precautions. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

 

After a string of attacks across France that have heightened concerns about Islamic militancy, prime minister Manuel Valls has ordered hundreds of additional military personnel onto the streets to reinforce a routine deployment of security forces.

“There is a terrorist threat in France,” Mr Valls told a news conference in Paris. “It is undoubtedly the main challenge of our time.”

Seeking to reassure a jittery nation unsettled by fears of militancy linked to the jihadi campaign in Syria and Iraq, Mr Valls said that between 200 and 300 more military personnel would be deployed, in addition to 780 already on the streets as part of routine year-end precautions. He indicated that the soldiers‘ mission would be to guard against copycat attacks inspired by the three recent assaults.

“Vigilance, calm, determination. These are the key points,” Mr Valls said, speaking after successive attacks in the central town of Tours on Saturday, in Dijon on Sunday and Nantes on Monday.

Late on Monday, a man rammed a van into a crowded Christmas market in the western city of Nantes, wounding 10 shoppers. One of the victims, a 25-year-old man, later died of his wounds. The assailant survived and is being questioned by police.

That came a day after a man shouting “Allahu Akbar“ (“God is greatest”) injured 13 in a similar attack in the eastern city of Dijon. On Saturday, an attacker, also yelling “Allahu Akbar”, was shot after stabbing three police officers in central France.

“What we are seeing with events in Dijon and Nantes is that they are creating copycat reactions,” said Mr Valls said after ordering the deployment of the extra soldiers for patrols in zones such as Paris’s Champs-Élysées and main shopping districts.

France is already on high alert after calls earlier this year from militants to attack its citizens and interests in reprisal for French military strikes on Islamist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa.

Prosecutors have opened a terrorist investigation for the first attack, after searches unearthed what they called a written “religious testament” in which the suspect invoked the Arabic word for God –Allah – to give him strength.

Authorities are not treating the other two other incidents as terrorism and have said those attackers both had mental health problems.

Mr Valls nonetheless said on Monday that France had “never before faced such a high threat linked to terrorism”.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this week France had made 118 arrests in its efforts to crack down on French nationals who leave to fight alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria and return home as potential threats to security.

The far-right National Front has accused the Socialist government of trying to play down the Islamist threat and has stepped up its own calls for deportations of radical preachers and a tightening of border controls.

Separately, police in the Riviera city of Cannes said a man armed with two pump-action shotguns and a knife had been arrested at dawn near a local market. They said his motivations remained unclear pending further interrogation. Reuters and NYT