French authorities urged calm after a series of attacks across the country left dozens of people injured, and said there was no evidence the violent acts were connected by any terrorist motive.
In the latest incident, 11 people were injured after a driver crashed his van into a crowded Christmas market in western France Monday evening. The driver then stabbed himself several times and is among five people hospitalized in serious condition, authorities said.
The attack, in the town Nantes, came after a pair of weekend attacks: one in which another driver ran down 13 bystanders in the city Dijon in eastern France, and one in which a recent convert to Islam knifed police officers outside the city of Tours.
Speaking on French television, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the driver in Nantes “deliberately crashed into the crowd.”
While police investigations continued late Monday, local prosecutor Brigitte Lamy said the incident was an isolated incident and “not a terrorist act.”
In a signal of how serious the government was taking the attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls issued a statement late Monday calling for calm and vigilance.
The prosecutor in Dijon said the driver behind the attack in that city has a long history of severe mental illness and no links to terrorism.
The man, who is 40, has admitted his role in the attack, said prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare. She said the man, the French-born son of North African immigrants, acted alone and had no religious motivations, but was upset at the treatment of Chechen children.
He shouted ‘God is great’ to give himself courage to act, and not out of religious belief, Tarrare said.
In what may have been a “revenge” attack by far-right activists, a car rammed the main gate of a mosque in Strasbourg in the early hours of yesterday. Police fear that the raid might have been carried out by activists convinced – despite official denials – that France was under “Islamist attack”.
Shots were also fired at a synagogue in Paris and a heavily armed man was arrested on the streets of Cannes yesterday. There was no immediate reason to connect either event with the three incidents in Nantes, Dijon and Tours.
The Socialist-led government called for calm and insisted that the events should be treated separately. Mr Valls said such a “series of dramas” was “disturbing” but there was no cause for “panic”. He announced that an extra 300 soldiers would be deployed to strengthen the armed, military and police patrols which have protected city centres for the last 20 years.
The far-right political leader Marine le Pen had earlier accused the government and media of deliberately “minimising” the first two incidents which she described as Islamist “terrorist attacks”. Ms Le Pen was silent about the third incident on Monday night in which the man, with no known political or religious affiliations, drove his van into Nantes’ crowded Christmas market.