Hostage Situation In Southern France Being Investigated As Terrorist Attack
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According to police sources cited in French media, at least two people were killed in the ongoing incident in the small southwestern French town of Trèbes, not far from Toulouse. The Paris prosecutor’s office, which handles terrorism cases nationwide, quickly opened an investigation into the ongoing incident, as security forces scrambled to secure the area around the Super U supermarket.
“All the information we have at our disposal leads us to believe it would seem to be a terrorist act,” said French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, speaking to reporters early Friday afternoon, from the eastern French city of Mulhouse.
Gérard Collomb, France‘s interior minister, announced on Twitter that he was immediately leaving for the area.
According to French media reports, the attacker claimed to be connected to the Islamic State, but any connection is unconfirmed.
Although other previous terrorist attacks in France have been undertaken by operatives of the Islamic State, a number of others have been carried out by so-called “lone wolf” attackers inspired by the group, and whose connection is ultimately impossible to verify.
The identity of the Trèbes attacker remains unknown.
The hostage attack in Trèbes followed an earlier incident on Friday morning, in which a man opened fire on a group of four members of France‘s national C.R.S. police force in the nearby city of Carcassonne, wounding one of the officers.
The connection between the two events, if any, was not immediately clear.
For French authorities, what was particularly alarming about the events on Friday morning was that the area targeted was quiet and provincial, far from the big cities that have typically attracted terrorist violence in the past.
“This can strike no matter where, no matter when, no matter how,” said Yves Lefebvre, the head of France‘s SGP police union, speaking on Europe 1 radio.
In any case, a hostage scenario at a supermarket immediately recalled the January 2015 anti-Semitic attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket outside Paris, in which four people were killed. In that case, the perpetrator — in a posthumously released video — had also declared his allegiance to the Islamic State, but his contacts with the terror organization before the Hyper Cacher attack were unclear.
In recent years, France has born the lion’s share of Europe’s struggle with terrorist violence. Since January 2015, around 230 people have been killed in a string of attacks that included the deadly Islamic State-orchestrated assault on Paris in November 2015 as well as the July 2016 truck attack on seaside promenade in Nice, where a driver plowed through crowds gathered to celebrate Bastille Day, France‘s national holiday.
Although the Nice attack was the last major assault on French soil to claim dozens of casualties, smaller-scale terrorist incidents have continued in the years since, and the French government regularly reports foiled terrorist plots.