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Brutal French driver attack ‘not a terrorist act’

By AFP - Dec 22,2014 - Last updated at Dec 22,2014

DIJON, France — A Frenchman who ploughed into pedestrians shouting "Allahu Akbar" had been to psychiatric hospital 157 times and had no known links to jihadist groups, a prosecutor said Monday, easing concerns the attack was inspired by Islamic extremism.

The incident in the eastern town of Dijon left 13 people hurt in a scene one witness described as "apocalyptic" and came a day after a man assaulted police in the central town of Joue-les-Tours with a knife, slashing one officer in the face.

That man, who was shot dead, had also reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" — an Islamic phrase that has previously been used by extremists when waging violent attacks — prompting speculation both assaults were motivated by radical Islamism.

But French leaders were quick to play down any links between the two incidents, with President Francois Hollande urging the French not to panic and government spokesman Stephane Le Foll warning against "lumping them together".

In Saturday's attack, Bertrand Nzohabonayo, a French convert to Islam who was born in Burundi, was shot dead after entering a police station in Joue-les-Tours armed with a knife, seriously wounding two officers and hurting another.

The assault prompted the government to step up security at police and fire stations nationwide.

Nzohabonayo had previously committed petty offences but was not on a domestic intelligence watch list although his brother Brice is known for his radical views and once pondered going to Syria.

Brice was arrested in Burundi soon after the Saturday incident, intelligence services there said Monday.

"He has been detained at our premises and he is being questioned," intelligence spokesman Telesphore Bigirimana told AFP.

The anti-terror branch of the Paris prosecutor's office quickly took over a probe into the attack amid heightened vigilance over potential "lone wolf" attacks by individuals heeding calls for violence by the Islamic State jihadist group.

The radical group has repeatedly singled out France for such attacks, most recently in a video posted on jihadist sites.

Bertrand Nzohabonayo, who had taken the name Bilal when he converted to Islam, had posted a flag of the Islamic State group on his Facebook page Thursday, although people who knew him said at the weekend they refused to believe the attack was spurred by radical Islamism.

The second attack on Sunday also saw the assailant shout "Allahu Akbar", witnesses told police.

The driver targeted groups of passers-by at five different locations in Dijon in a rampage that lasted around half- an-hour, before being arrested.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who visited the town on Monday, said 13 people were injured in the rampage though none of the victims are critical.

Local prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare told reporters that the man, born in 1974, had a "long-lasting and severe psychological disorder" and had visited psychiatric hospital 157 times.

She said he told police that he ploughed into people due to a sudden "outburst of empathy for the children of Chechnya".

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