Police searching for a driver who attempted to ram his vehicle into soldiers jogging outside their base in the French Alps say they have arrested a man.
Investigators are trying to establish if the man who was stopped in a housing estate in Grenoble while driving the vehicle used in the attack was driving it at the time of the incident. Police are still searching for a woman who was a passenger.
The car was driven towards a group of soldiers who were returning from a football match near their barracks at about 9am in Varces-Allières-et-Risset, near Grenoble, army spokesman Col Benoît Brulon told AFP.
“The soldiers managed to get up onto the pavement without being hit,” Brulon said. Nobody was reported injured.
The local public prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat has opened an investigation into the incident for attempted murder.
“We’re just starting the inquiry so we must remain careful as to the suspect’s motives,” Coquillat said. “Anti-terrorist judges might be instructed depending on how the situation evolves,” he added.
Brulon told the local Dauphiné Libéré newspaper the man had first “verbally threatened six or seven soldiers who were playing football” around 8.15am on Thursday.
He then stopped to insult a second group of soldiers who were returning from the football game. “They lost sight of him, but on their return [to barracks] he tried to drive into them,” Brulon added.
The suspect, driving a black coloured Peugeot 208 said to have been stolen the previous day, sped off.
Police sealed off the area and began a search for the driver and a second person reportedly in the vehicle, while soldiers joined the hunt and the army stepped up security around the barracks. Local schools went into lock-down.
“A person tried to run down two soldiers from the 93rd mountain artillery regiment in Varces, for unknown reasons,” a source close to the investigation told Reuters. “Given the context, the incident is being taken seriously but we don’t know his motivations. No one was injured.”
Le Dauphiné Libéré said the soldiers who were attacked were from the 7th mountain infantry and the vehicle had first stopped at a traffic light where the driver began shouting insults, reportedly in Arabic.
The prosecutor confirmed the driver had shouted insults at soldiers outside the barracks several times early on Thursday morning, but gave no further details.
France is on high alert after an Islamic State loyalist went on a rampage in south-west France last Friday, killing four people including a gendarme who took the place of a hostage in a supermarket siege.
Funerals for the four victims of the attack in the town of Carcassonne and nearby Trèbes, including the heroic officer, Arnaud Beltrame, are were taking place on Thursday.
Paying tribute to Beltrame at a national ceremony in Paris on Wednesday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said the officer’s act of self-sacrifice would “remain etched in French hearts”.
More than 240 people have been killed in a series of jihadist attacks around France over the past three years, and the security forces have been targeted on several occasions.
In April 2017, a policeman was shot dead while on duty on the Champs Élysées in Paris. Four months later, a man rammed his car into a group of soldiers on anti-terror patrol in the western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, injuring six people.
The 93rd mountain artillery regiment based near Grenoble came under attack two years ago in a similar incident. Soldiers were patrolling around the local mosque in Valence when the driver of a Peugeot rammed them three times before they shot him. The suspect, a 29-year-old Frenchman of Tunisian origin, has been accused of attempted murder.