Suspect in attack on French soldiers had been turned away by Turkey

A knife-wielding assailant attacks three soldiers outside a Jewish community center in southern France

A man who was sent home from Turkey last week attacked three soldiers with a knife outside a Jewish community center in southern France on Tuesday, injuring two of them, officials said.

The suspect, identified in French news reports as Moussa Coulibaly, had attracted the attention of authorities when he purchased a one-way ticket to Turkey, a route used by those attempting to join Islamist extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

France’s counter-terrorism agency alerted Turkish authorities about the suspect, who was turned back upon arrival Jan. 28, France’s BFM TV reported. He was questioned by French officials, but there was insufficient evidence to open a case against him, the station said. [Link in French]

France has been on high alert since a series of attacks last month killed 17 people and left three gunmen dead.

The soldiers who were attacked Tuesday afternoon were deployed outside a Jewish community center in Nice.  One was injured in the face, according to a statement released by the French Interior and Defense ministries.  Two others rushed to the soldier’s aid, and one of them was injured in the arm before police helped subdue the assailant, the statement said. [Link in French]

A man who was seen in Coulibaly’s company earlier in the day also was taken into custody, French news reports said.

Authorities described Coulibaly as a man in his 30s from the Paris region who has a string of convictions for theft, illegal drug use and other crimes. He was not believed to be related to Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed by police during last month's attacks after taking hostages at a kosher market in Paris.

Tuesday’s assault was a reminder of the security challenges posed by the growing number of radicalized Europeans and other nationals who are seeking to join militants in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds are believed to have traveled from France alone, and authorities worry they could return to stage attacks at home or in other Western countries.

Earlier Tuesday, French authorities arrested eight people, including a woman, suspected of involvement in sending fighters to join extremists in Syria. None of those apprehended in sweeps in the Paris and Lyon areas were believed to have links to last month’s attacks, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

For more international news, follow @alexzavis on Twitter

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World