French police shot and arrested a man suspected of slamming a BMW into soldiers in a Paris suburb on Wednesday, injuring six of them in what appeared to be a carefully timed ambush before speeding away, officials said.
The driver's motive was unclear, but officials said he deliberately aimed at the soldiers, and counterterrorism authorities opened an investigation. The attacker and soldiers were hospitalized.
It was the latest of several attacks targeting security forces guarding France over the past year. While others have targeted prominent sites like the Eiffel Tower, Wednesday's attack hit the leafy, relatively affluent suburb of Levallois-Perret that is home to France's main intelligence service, the DGSI, and its counterterrorism service.
"We know it was a deliberate act," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said. Defense Minister Florence Parly called it proof that extra security measures imposed in recent years are "more necessary than ever."
On a quiet summer morning, the suspect was seen waiting in a BMW in a cul-de-sac near the Levallois city hall and a building used as a staging point for soldiers in France's Sentinelle operation to protect prominent sites from attack, according to two police officials.
A group of soldiers emerged from the building to board vehicles for a new shift when the car sped up and rammed into them, its force hurling the soldiers against their van, according to one official. The interior minister said the car first approached slowly then sped up about five meters (yards) from its target.
A nearby resident described an ear-piercing scream of pain, then soldiers chasing after the fleeing car.
Authorities checked video surveillance of the area and police fanned out and stopped numerous cars as they searched for the attacker. Most were released.
Then, on the A16 highway near the English Channel port of Calais, police stopped what the prime minister called the "principal suspect" in the attack. Images of the arrest scene show emergency vehicles surrounding a black BMW with a damaged windshield, on a cordoned-off highway in the midst of verdant fields.
Police officers opened fire during the arrest to subdue the man, and the suspect was injured along with a police officer hit by a stray bullet, according to a judicial official. The official wasn't authorized to be publicly named because of an ongoing police operation.
The suspect's condition was not immediately clear.
Three of the soldiers hit in the morning attack were slightly injured and three were more seriously hurt, but their lives weren't in danger, according to the Defense Ministry. The defense minister said she received "reassuring" news about their condition Wednesday afternoon.
The soldiers were from the 35th infantry regiment and served in Operation Sentinelle, created to guard prominent French sites after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks in 2015.
A witness to the car attack, Nadia LeProhon, was startled by a loud crash outside her building and rushed outside her seventh-floor window to see two soldiers on the ground. Other soldiers ran after a speeding car, shouting "After him! Follow that car!"
"I'll never forget that scream — a scream of pain and distress," she told The Associated Press.
Resident Jean-Claude Veillant said he saw two uniformed soldiers prone on the ground when he came down to the entrance of his 13-story building.
"It was horrible," he said, adding that both soldiers appeared to be in bad shape and one of them was unconscious.
The street is normally guarded by posts that are removed when vehicles move in and out, so the driver must have known exactly when to strike, Veillant said. "They must've really planned this," he said.
French counterterrorism prosecutors opened an investigation aimed at pursuing perpetrators on charges of attempted murder of security forces in connection with a terrorist enterprise, the Paris prosecutor's office said.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that despite sustained "high threat" against France, the government is sticking to plans to lift a 21-month state of emergency.
Speaking to lawmakers, he insisted that a new bill enshrining permanent counterterrorism measures would be enough to replace the state of emergency, imposed after deadly Islamic extremist attacks in November 2015. The bill is currently under parliamentary debate, ahead of an expected end to the state of emergency Nov. 1.
French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the attack at a security meeting Wednesday and at a weekly Cabinet meeting.
Angela Charlton reported from Paris. Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.