Investigators baffled by killings of French soldiers


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The Independent Online

The French government tried yesterday to play down the possibility of an Afghan or Islamist terrorist connection to the shootings of four soldiers on the streets over the past week. Other possibilities, including racially motivated crimes, are being studied by investigators.

On Thursday, two paratroopers in uniform died and a third was critically wounded when they were shot at close range by a gunman on a motorbike at Montauban in south-west France. All three were of African origin. The wounded man was in a critical but stable condition yesterday.

The incident bore a strong resemblance to the fatal shooting four days earlier in Toulouse of a paratrooper out of uniform. He, too, was of North African origin. In Montauban, the soldiers were withdrawing money from a cash machine. In Toulouse, the soldier had paused while riding a motorcycle.

French media speculated yesterday that the attacks might have been motivated by the presence of French forces in Afghanistan. The three men attacked on Thursday belonged to a unit that has lost four soldiers while defusing mines in Afghanistan.

]The Defence Minister, Gérard Longuet, and the Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, said a terrorist connection was being investigated but there were no indications of a political motive. Asked if there could be an Afghan connection, Mr Longuet added: "Genuinely, I don't think so and I hope not. But at this stage we have no reason to exclude any hypothesis."