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Police arrest man who tried to run down soldiers in southern France (Update 2)

France is on high alert

French police arrested a man suspected of driving a stolen car at a group of soldiers jogging outside their base in the foothills of the Alps on Thursday, a police source said.

A spokesman for the army’s land regiments based in the Isere region told Reuters soldiers had told police the driver first passed them shouting abuse in Arabic, before returning and trying to run them down. No one was hurt in the incident.

“There were a good 10 of them jogging outside their barracks. He targeted one group of four, but none were hit,” the Isere land forces spokesman said.

The suspect was arrested in the stolen Peugeot 208 in Grenoble, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) to the north of Varces-Allieres-et-Risset, where the incident took place.

The incident caused a flurry of alarm coming days after an Islamic State loyalist went on a rampage in southern France last Friday, killing four people. It was the first militant attack since President Emmanuel Macron lifted a state of emergency.

Thursday’s incident appeared deliberate because there was a gap of around 30 minutes between the driver hurling insults at the soldiers and driving back to hit them, Pierre-Yves Sarzaud of the army’s public relations unit told BFM TV.

If confirmed to be a deliberate act, it would not be the first time an assailant has used a vehicle to target members of the security forces in France. In August, police shot and arrested a man who deliberately rammed his car into soldiers beginning a patrol in a plush Paris suburb, injuring six.

The driver targeted soldiers from the 7th Mountain Battalion. Earlier, officials had said the soldiers belonged to the 93rd Mountain Artillery regiment.

The town’s mayor said schoolchildren were being kept indoors while the driver remained at large, local media reported.

A source close to the investigation said the driver’s motivations remained unclear but that the incident was being taken seriously.

Macron on Wednesday said France was locked in a fight against “clandestine Islamic fundamentalism” as he paid tribute to the gendarme who took the place of a hostage in Friday’s attack in the town of Trebes. The gendarme was killed by the Moroccan-born assailant.

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