Man arrested for trying to drive into crowd outside French mosque

The suspect, a 43-year-old Armenian, was taken from the Paris suburb of Creteil for allegedly attempting to ram a 4X4 vehicle into people standing in front of a mosque, police say.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Police secure a mosque in Creteil near Paris, France. June 29, 2017.

A man was arrested after allegedly trying to drive a vehicle into a crowd in front of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Creteil on Thursday, police said, with Muslim officials describing the incident as an "attempted attack."

The 4X4 vehicle "struck pillars and barriers in place to protect the mosque of Creteil", in the southeast of the capital, before speeding off and crashing into a traffic island, police said.

No one was injured in the incident.

"We avoided a catastrophe, within a couple of minutes. It was prayer time, the faithful started to come out of the prayer room," Creteil Mosque rector Karim Benaissa said.

Motive under investigation

The driver, who was also the owner of the vehicle, fled but was arrested "without incident" at his home shortly afterwards, police added.

The man's motives were unclear, and he had not succeeded in reaching the crowd because of barriers in front of the mosque, according to a statement released by authorities.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in a statement that his "exact motives" will be determined by an investigation.

He was not under the influence of alcohol, according to judicial authorities.

"Confused remarks"

A search was conducted Thursday night at the driver's home, a source close to the investigation said. The source added the suspect had made "confused remarks in relation" to a string of terror attacks that have struck France, killing 239 people since 2015.

The man is a 43-year-old Armenian who will be subjected to psychiatric tests, another source close to the investigation said.

An investigation, to be carried out by a regular police department rather than an anti-terrorism unit, would determine if the man could be held accountable for his actions.

Paris police prefect Michel Delpuech said he was "doing everything possible ... to clarify the motives of the driver and determine if he is criminally responsible."

"An Islamophobic act"

In a statement, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, described the incident as a "criminal attack" and an "Islamophobic act."

"What has just happened in Creteil seems to justify the fears I expressed after the attack close to Finsbury Park Mosque in London," the head of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, Abdallah Zekri, said.

Zekri called for "more vigilance on the part of mosque officials" and called on the authorities to "strengthen protection of places of worship." 

Last week, a man drove a van at Muslim worshippers leaving a mosque in London.

He was charged with terrorism-related murder and attempted murder.

Source: 
AFP, Reuters