Terror probe begins after armed man tries to enter Eiffel Tower

PARIS: French prosecutors have opened a counter-terrorism investigation after a man with a knife tried to force his way in to Paris’ Eiffel Tower late on Saturday, a judicial source said.
The incident at the world-famous tourist site was initially treated as a criminal matter, but was later designated a counter-terrorism case because of the suspect’s statements to police and his apparent radicalisation, the source said.
The company that operates the Eiffel Tower said in a statement early on Sunday that a man with a knife tried to force his way through a security check at around 2130 GMT on Saturday before being quickly stopped. No one was injured, the
operator said, adding that the tower was evacuated by police to check the entire site.
A source close to the investigation said the suspect, a French national born in Mauritania in 1998, had been in a psychiatric hospital for several months and was granted temporary permission to leave care from August 4 to August 6.
During questioning by police, the man stated he had wanted to carry out an attack against a soldier and was in contact with a member of militant group IS who encouraged him to act, the source said.
After pushing his way past a security guard at the entrance to the Eiffel Tower, the man approached soldiers patrolling at the site and, holding a blade, shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’, the source said.
But he complied when the soldiers told him to put down his weapon and offered no resistance when arrested, the source added.
France’s interior minister said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that the threat of militant attacks was “very high”, citing two incidents this year targeting police on Paris’ Champs Elysees.
France has been subject to state of emergency legislation, giving police extended powers, since November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris. Over 100 other people have been killed in other militant attacks in France in the past two-and-a-half years.
271 militants return: Meanwhile, the country’s interior minister said in a newspaper interview that France has seen 271 militants return from war zones in Iraq and Syria and all of them are subject to investigation by public prosecutors.
Some 700 French nationals are estimated to have fought in IS ranks in Iraq and Syria, and like other European countries France has been wrestling with how to handle the flow of so-called returnees.
The number of militants to have returned to France included 217 adults and 54 minors, with some of them currently in detention, Gerard Collomb said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche.
Asked how many French militants had been killed in Iraq and Syria, Collomb told the Sunday newspaper that it was difficult to corroborate information. — Reuters