Paris – Mystery still surrounds the car-ramming attack that was carried out by Algerian Hamou bin al-Atrash in a Paris suburb on Wednesday.
The suspect is currently in hospital where he is receiving treatment after being shot five times by police during his arrest. He was not well enough to be questioned, a police source said. His condition is however no longer critical.
On Wednesday, the 36-year-old Algerian man was arrested after a motorway car chase and is suspected of driving a BMW into a group of servicemen in a suburb of Paris earlier in the day, injuring six of them.
Atrash, a taxi driver, had no previous convictions and was not on France’s terror watch list.
Pending his recovery and investigation, security and judicial sources have not yet labeled the attack as terrorist.
Security agencies carried out a number of raids and confiscated mobile phones and laptops and interrogated a number of individuals who may have connections with Atrash.
French media released several details of the operation that led to the suspect’s arrest. The 300-strong force succeeded in arresting him after opening heavy fire against him. Atrash in turn did not hesitate in ramming into one of the police cars in an attempt to escape their clutches on the highway.
La Parisian newspaper said that police succeeded in tracking him down due to the GPS in his rented vehicle.
Atrash’s uncle told local French television that he was “surprised” when he saw the name of his nephew on the news. He described him as a “calm” and “polite” man. His neighbors in the city of Bezons in the Val-d’Oise region also expressed their shock at the news.
Up until Thursday night, no one claimed responsibility for the car-ramming in the upmarket western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Investigators have also not found any evidence linking the suspect to terrorist or extremist groups outside of France.
The latest attack on French anti-terror soldiers sparked debate over whether troops should remain on patrol around the country after being repeatedly targeted by extremists.
The incident was the sixth attack on patrolling soldiers since 7,000 troops were ordered onto the streets in January 2015 after an attack by two extremists on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Leftist lawmaker Clementine Autain charged Thursday that the force is counterproductive, telling French radio: “Most of their operations are aimed at protecting themselves.”
The soldiers form part of so-called “Sentinelle” force which patrols French streets and guards high-risk areas such as tourist sites and religious buildings.
Right-wing MP Daniel Fasquelle called for an overhaul of the Sentinelle force.
He questioned whether the soldiers were adequately trained for the job of preventing the kind of terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives in France.
Vincent Desportes, former director of France’s military academy the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, told AFP: “Since the beginning they have essentially served as targets.”
Historian Benedicte Cheron agrees, telling the news magazine Le Point in a recent interview: “Let’s face it: Sentinelle is a lightning rod that attracts lightning.”
But a lawmaker with the ruling Republic on the Move (REM) party defended the force, saying it “demonstrates the contribution of the French army… to the security of the country.”
In Wednesday’s attack, the BMW rolled slowly down a quiet street, then accelerated as it neared the troops, ramming into them before speeding away.
Three of the soldiers sustained serious, but not life-threatening injuries.