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Manhunt continues for soldier's assailant in France

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By The Washington Post
Sunday, May 26, 2013, 8:48 p.m.
 

PARIS —French police pursued a nationwide manhunt on Sunday for a tall, bearded assailant who wounded a uniformed soldier in the neck with a box cutter in what authorities said was an attempted assassination.

The 23-year-old 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.

Initial reports described the lone attacker as wearing a North African-style robe called a jellabah during the assault Saturday evening. But the district prosecutor, Robert Gelli, said he was wearing a black sweater and black trousers as security cameras monitored him later fleeing into the crowd at a subway and suburban entrance plaza.

“He left without saying a word,” Gelli told French television.

President Francois Hollande, in a televised statement from Ethiopia, where he is on a state visit, urged security authorities to “look at all the possibilities” as they investigate the assault that Interior Minister Manuel Valls said was an attempt to kill the soldier.

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

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

French authorities have warned for months that the country was 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 Islamist guerrillas last week along with a nearby Nigerien military base, killing several dozen Nigerien soldiers. French special forces intervened the next day, killing several guerrillas, to liberate hostages.

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