The suspected perpetrator, right, in the stabbing of a French soldier is escorted by a police officer as he arrives at police headquarters in Paris on Wednesday. (Eric Feferberg / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images / May 29, 2013)

PARIS -- French police arrested a 21-year-old man Wednesday in connection with the stabbing of a soldier in Paris, an attack that investigators believe was terrorism-related.

The suspect was picked up by police at 6 a.m. Wednesday in a suburb of the French capital and was being questioned by anti-terrorist officers.

Officials said that the man was known to police, having been cautioned for alleged petty crimes, but that he was not known to French intelligence services.

The 25-year-old French soldier, Pfc. Cedric Cordier, was patrolling the busy underground shopping corridors beneath La Defense arch in Paris' business district with two other soldiers when an attacker approached him from behind shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday.

Cordier was stabbed in the neck with a knife or box cutter that narrowly missed his carotid artery. He was released from the hospital Monday but is said to be traumatized by what happened.

The attack occurred three days after the hacking death of a British soldier on a London street, an incident apparently fueled by Islamist ideology.

The man arrested Wednesday in the Paris stabbing, described as a French citizen, is being held under anti-terrorist laws that allow investigators to keep him for questioning for up to 96 hours.

Investigators said the suspect, whom they described as "bearded, tall and athletic," was captured by CCTV cameras praying before the attack. Detectives have also obtained DNA samples from items left in a bag near the scene of the incident, including clothes, a knife and a half-empty bottle of orange juice.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls confirmed reports in the French media that the suspect had "traditional, even radical Islamic links," but said it was too early to draw any conclusions.

"We have a certain number of elements that suggest this, but the inquiry has only just begun and we have to respect it. The prosecutor and police think this man is sufficiently dangerous to put this inquiry under the authority of the anti-terrorist prosecutor," Valls told iTele.

Detectives told French journalists that the arrested man holds "strong religious convictions" but was not on any list of known "jihadists." They added that when police arrived to pick him up at a residence in La Verriere, 21 miles southwest of Paris, on Wednesday morning, he told them: "I know why you are here."

At a news conference, prosecutor François Molins said the suspect “wanted to target a representative of the state." He added that the alleged attacker had stabbed several times with "impressive determination."

Molins said the suspect had converted to Islam at 18 and had probably acted out of "religious ideology."

The prosecutor said the man had been stopped and asked for his identity papers after praying in the street in 2009, and was known to police for alleged petty crimes and violence, for which he had been cautioned but never prosecuted.


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