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French soldier's slashing by man in Muslim prayer cap, robe stuns capital

| Sunday, May 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Police officers cordon off the spot where a French soldier was stabbed in the throat in the busy commercial district of La Defense, outside Paris, on Saturday, May 25, 2013.

PARIS — A uniformed French soldier on an anti-terrorism patrol west of Paris was wounded in the neck Saturday by a robed assailant wielding a box cutter, police and subway authorities said.

The soldier was reported to be out of danger after being transported to a nearby military hospital. But the attack sent a shudder through the French capital because it recalled the gory killing of a soldier in the streets of London on Wednesday allegedly by a pair of homegrown Muslim extremists, an act that the British government called terrorism.

The lone attacker was described as a young man wearing a Muslim prayer cap and a North African-style robe called a jellabah. According to a police account, he was monitored on security cameras and seen shedding his robe and fleeing in European clothes before disappearing into the crowd in a subway and suburban train entrance.

A vast manhunt began. President Francois Hollande, in televised remarks from Ethiopia where he is on a state visit, urged security authorities to “look at all the possibilities” as they investigate the assault.

The attack took place at La Defense business center in the suburbs, about a mile west of the Arc de Triomphe. Military patrols have been deployed for months in such transit centers around Paris and other French cities as part of an anti-terrorism plan called Vigipirate.

The patrols usually include several soldiers in camouflage uniforms and armed with French-made FAMAS automatic rifles. There was no word, however, on what other members of the patrol did or whether anybody fired at the assailant.

French authorities have warned for months that the country is in danger of a terrorist attack in reprisal for France's military intervention in January against Islamist jihadists in northern Mali. Several thousand French soldiers remain in Mali pending arrival of a U.N. and African peace maintenance force.

A French uranium mine at Arlit in northern Niger was attacked by Islamic guerrillas this week along with a nearby Niger military base, killing several dozen Niger soldiers. French special forces intervened the next day, killing several guerrillas, to liberate a group of hostages.

Internet postings said the attacks were carried out by MUJAO, the West African Unity and Jihadist Movement, in coordination with Those Who Sign in Blood, a split-off from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Belmokhtar, a one-eyed guerrilla leader and smuggler, was reported killed during the French offensive in Mali. But according to the postings, he was the planner of the attacks in Niger and described them as revenge for the French operation in Mali.

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