France steps up security measures after 3 apparently unrelated attacks

France steps up security measures after 3 apparently unrelated attacks
French soldiers patrol Human Rights Square in Paris on Dec. 23. The French army and police have been asked to send reinforcement after three recent acts of violence. (Etienne Laurent / European Pressphoto Agency)

France plans to deploy as many as 300 troops and increase patrols by police and gendarmes around the country after a series of attacks that left one person dead and more than 20 injured.

The country was put on high alert after three apparently unrelated incidents in as many days. The soldiers and security forces will concentrate on areas where large numbers of people gather, including shopping malls and transport stations.


Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the measures after a crisis meeting Tuesday morning, during which it was said that one of the 10 victims of an attack in the western city of Nantes on Monday had died.

The Nantes attack, in which a man drove his van into shoppers at a Christmas market, came a day after another driver repeatedly plowed into a group of pedestrians in the city of Dijon, injuring 11 people.

In both cases, police told journalists the attackers appeared to be "psychologically unbalanced."

On Saturday, a former rapper born in Burundi but living in France was shot dead by police after attacking and injuring three officers with a knife outside Tours. The man, a convert to Islam, was said by witnesses to have shouted "Allah Akbar" -- God is great -- during the assault.

"The number of patrols will be increased during this [Christmas] period. Between 200 and 300 soldiers will be deployed in the coming hours," Valls said after Tuesday's meeting of five ministers as well as police and gendarme chiefs.

"Patrols by police and gendarmes will concentrate on areas where there are a lot of people: shopping areas, city and town centers, stations and transport networks."

In an attempt to calm the country, which has been spooked by the unprovoked attacks on ordinary citizens, the prime minister called for "sangfroid and vigilance." Valls said he was convinced the incidents were not linked.

Talking to Europe 1 radio before the emergency meeting, Valls said he understood the public's "real and legitimate concerns," but insisted the best response was "to continue to get on with our lives calmly."

The Dijon suspect is now in police custody, while the Nantes attacker, who stabbed himself in the chest with a knife several times, was in the hospital in what police said was a serious but not life-threatening condition.

"We cannot speak of an act of terrorism," Brigitte Lamy, the Nantes public prosecutor, told journalists. "It appears to be an isolated case."

She added that there had been no religious or other claims made. "We need to verify this, but it appears to be the same kind of attack as that which took place in Dijon."

President Francois Hollande, who is on a visit to the French island of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off Canada in the Atlantic Ocean, said his thoughts were with the families of victims.

"We cannot give in to panic, to confusion to fear," Hollande told reporters.

Willsher is a special correspondent.