Man drives car at troops protecting mosque in southern France – mayor

A photo of the scene uploaded to Twitter.
A photo of the scene uploaded to Twitter.PHOTO: TWITTER

PARIS (REUTERS/AFP) - A soldier and an elderly Muslim man were slightly injured when a man tried to run his car into troops protecting a mosque in Valence in southern France on Friday, mayor Nicolas Daragon told the iTELE news channel.

The driver was also injured when the soldiers shot at him, Mr Daragon said.

The man was taken to hospital, and the mayor said his identity, motives and psychiatric state were not yet known.

The 72-year-old worshipper was hit in the calf by a stray bullet shot by the soldiers, he said.

The incident occurred in mid-afternoon, between two prayer sessions, when there was a large crowd outside, the rector of the mosque, Abadallah Dliouah, said.

The prefecture said the mosque was usually very calm, “and worship there takes place peacefully”.

“The four soldiers were in front of the mosque, a moderate, quiet mosque, in between two prayers, at a time when many worshippers arrived,” Mr Daragon said.

“A car drove at them.”

Police said the driver deliberately sped his vehicle at the troops as they were stationed in a car park outside a large mosque in a suburb of Valence.

The driver bore down on the team a first time, prompting them to shout a warning, and when he returned for a second pass, they opened fire, they said.

The impact of the car, a Peugeot 307 station wagon, left the soldier with injuries to his knee and shin, police said.

The driver was shot in the arm and the leg and was taken to hospital, the prefecture of the Drome department (county) said.

The driver tried twice to hit the soldiers and they shot at him on his second attempt, he said.

The defence and interior ministries in Paris said in a joint statement the driver’s injuries were “serious but currently not life-threatening”.

Mr Daragon praised the soldiers for what he said was “remarkable” self-control, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian were swift to add their backing.

“My support for the soldiers attacked in Valence. Fully appreciate our forces, mobilised for the security of France,” Mr Valls said in a tweet.

Mr Le Drian and Mr Cazeneuve’s statement said the soldiers “responded with defensive fire” against the assailant.

The soldier is among 10,000 security personnel protecting sensitive sites around the nation after the deadly jihadist assaults in Paris in 2015.

France has been on high alert since Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants killed 130 people in shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on Nov 13.

Earlier attacks in Paris on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket killed 17 people in January 2015.
The traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Paris was cancelled over fears of a terrorist attack.

Instead, the large crowds on the Champs-Elysees avenue were treated to a giant video projection on the Arc de Triomphe featuring the French flag, people smiling and images of famous Parisian landmarks, intended as a show of national unity and solidarity.