LEVALLOIS-PERRET, France — French police arrested a man Wednesday in the search for a driver who slammed his BMW into soldiers in a Paris suburb Wednesday, injuring six of them in what appeared to be a carefully timed ambush before speeding away, officials said.
A French official described the man as the chief suspect in the car attack and said he was wounded in gunfight.
The driver’s motive was unclear, but officials said he deliberately aimed at the soldiers, and counterterrorism authorities opened an investigation. None of the soldiers had life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
It was the latest of several attacks targeting security forces guarding France over the past year. While others have targeted prominent sites like the Eiffel Tower, Wednesday’s attack hit the leafy, relatively affluent suburb of Levallois-Perret that is home to France’s main intelligence service, the DGSI.
Witnesses described seeing a BMW with one person inside waiting in a cul-de-sac near a building used for the soldiers, according to two police officials. One official said the attacker struck just as a group of soldiers emerged from the building to board vehicles for a new shift.
Authorities checked video surveillance of the area, near the city hall of Levallois, northwest of Paris, and police fanned out around the French capital and stopped numerous cars as they searched for the attacker.
Most were released. But in one case, police stopped a car on the A16 highway and arrested the driver and were verifying his possible links to the attack, according to two police officials. One said the arrest was violent and police fired at the suspect to subdue him. The officials weren’t authorized to be publicly named because of an ongoing police operation.
A witness to the Levallois attack described an ear-piercing scream of pain that is still echoing through her head.
Nadia LeProhon, 45, was startled by a loud crash outside her building and rushed outside her seventh-floor window to see two soldiers on the ground. Other soldiers ran after a speeding car, shouting “After him! Follow that car!”
“I’ll never forget that scream — a scream of pain and distress,” she told The Associated Press.
Resident Jean-Claude Veillant said he saw two uniformed soldiers prone on the ground when he came down to the entrance of his 13-story building.
“It was horrible,” he said, adding that both soldiers appeared to be in bad shape and one of them was unconscious.
The street is normally guarded by posts that are removed when vehicles move in and out, so the driver must have known exactly when to strike, Veillant said. “They must’ve really planned this,” he said.
Three of the soldiers hit in the morning attack were slightly injured, while three were more seriously hurt, but their lives weren’t in danger, according to the Defense Ministry. The defense minister said she received “reassuring” news about their condition Wednesday afternoon.
The soldiers were from the 35th infantry regiment and served in Operation Sentinelle, created to guard prominent French sites after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks in 2015.
French counterterrorism prosecutors opened an investigation aimed at pursuing perpetrators on charges of attempted murder of security forces in connection with a terrorist enterprise, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. The move means authorities believe the attack was deliberate and planned with a terrorist motive.
French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the attack at a previously scheduled top-level security meeting Wednesday morning. He has pledged to boost military spending and entrench security measures after a string of Islamic extremist attacks since 2015.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the attack shows the importance of a new terrorism law permanently enshrining some aspects of the state of emergency in place in France since 2015.
Angela Charlton reported from Paris. Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.