Car rams into soldiers in Paris suburb in suspected terrorist attack

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[August 09, 2017]  By Benoit Tessier and Richard Lough

PARIS (Reuters) - A car rammed into a group of soldiers in a Parisian suburb on Wednesday, injuring six before speeding off in what officials identified as a suspected terrorist attack.

The vehicle, a BMW, was parked in an alley before it accelerated into the soldiers as they left their barracks to go on patrol, said Patrick Balkany, mayor of Levallois-Perret.

"The vehicle did not stop. It hurtled at them ... it accelerated rapidly," he told broadcaster BFM TV.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the driver was on the run and being sought, and an investigation was under way to determine "the motives and circumstances" for what she called a "cowardly act".

A justice ministry official said counter-terrorism investigators had been assigned to the case.

The incident follows a string of Islamist-inspired attacks on soldiers and police, who have been deployed in large numbers nationwide after calls by militant group Islamic State for attacks on France and other countries bombing its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The soldiers hit on Wednesday were rushed to hospital and police said two of the six were seriously injured.

SCRAPING METAL

Balkany said that what he called a "disgusting" act of aggression was "without any doubt" premeditated.

Jean-Claude Veillant, resident of an apartment building directly above the scene, witnessed part of the attack.

"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," he told reporters.

France remains on maximum alert following a string of attacks over the past two years in which Islamist militants or Islamist-inspired attackers have killed more than 230 people.

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Police secure the area near the scene where French soliders were hit and injured by a vehicle in the western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, France, August 9, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Most were civilians killed in Paris in early and late 2015 as well as in the southern seaside city of Nice in mid-2016, Since then a string of attacks have primarily targeted police and soldiers.

This year, assailants attacked soldiers at the Louvre museum site in Paris in February and at Orly airport in March. An assailant shot a policeman dead on the Champs Elysees avenue in the capital in April. Another man died after ramming his car into a police van in June and soldiers disarmed a knife-wielding man at the Eiffel Tower earlier this month.

The car in Wednesday's attack, which police said was dark-colored and probably a BMW, was parked near the edge of the Place de Verdun square in the center of Levallois-Perret, a relatively affluent suburb on the western edge of Paris.

The area, quieter than normal in peak summer holiday season, was cordoned off after the incident, which happened at around 8:00 a.m., police said.

Levallois-Perret is about 5 km (3 miles) from city center landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Elysee Presidential Palace.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Caroline Paillez, Brian Love and Johnny Coton; Writing by Brian Love; editing by John Stonestreet)

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