MS Risk Blog

Concerns of Copycat Attacks in France after Twenty People Left Injured in Three Separate Incidents

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On Tuesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sought to ease fears across the country after a recent spate of attacks.  The French government has urged the public to remain vigilant as authorities carry out investigations.  President Francois Hollande has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Tuesday and has urged the public not to panic.  While it appears that French authorities are playing down the idea that there is a pattern behind these three incidents, many are asking whether there is a copycat element to them.

It began on Saturday, when a man in the central town of Joue-les-Tours stabbed three police officers before being shot dead.  Bertrand Nzohabonayo was shot dead after he entered the police station armed with a knife and seriously wounded three officers.  Mr Nzohabonayo had previously committed petty offences however he was not on a domestic intelligence watch list.  According to a source, his brother is known for his radical views and once pondered travelling to Syria.  French anti-terrorism investigators have opened an inquiry into the attack.

Two other incidents followed Saturday’s attack.  On Sunday, a driver shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) ploughed his vehicle into pedestrians, injuring thirteen people in the city of Dijon.  The prosecutor has since indicated that the attacker had a long history of mental illness and that the incident is not linked to terrorism.  The latest attack occurred Monday, when ten people were injured after a van drove into a Christmas market in the western city of Nantes.  The attack occurred around 19:00 local time (1800 GMT), with witnesses reporting that the van drove into a stall that was selling mulled wine.  After the vehicle came to a halt, the driver stabbed himself in the chest several times, causing himself serious injuries.  French interior minister spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet has indicated that the motive behind the attack is currently unclear.

While concerns that these attacks may be copycat incidents have spread across France, Prime Minister Valls indicated Tuesday that there was “no link” between these three incidents, adding that security forces are dealing with individuals who were acting alone.  According to Mr Valls, “we do not minimise these acts,” adding that the government wants to “reassure” the public and understand what had happened.

On Monday, Burundi authorities disclosed that they have arrested the brother of the man who was fatally shot in Joue-les-Tours.  Burundi’s National Intelligence Services confirmed that Brice Nzohabonayo was detained in the capital Bujumbura shortly after his brother Bertrand attacked a police station.  Burundi’s intelligence service is currently working with its French counterpart, with sources reporting that investigators are now seeking to establish if any attacks are being planned in Burundi as the country is a contributor to the African Union (AU) force that is currently battling al-Shabaab in Somalia.  Paris prosecutor Francois Molins also announced Monday that the suspect’s sister had been taken into custody on Saturday, adding that she would soon be released as there are no elements suggesting her complicity.

The three incidents in France come as governments around the world brace for so-called “lone wolf” attacks, which are carried out by individuals who are returning from waging jihad abroad, or who are simply following calls for violence made by Islamic State (IS).

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