France Opens Counter-Terrorism Probe Into Knife-Wielding Man at Eiffel Tower

PARIS (Reuters) -
French police officers patrol near the Eiffel Tower, Paris. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, File)

French prosecutors have opened a counter-terrorism investigation after a man with a knife tried to force his way into Paris’s 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 radicalization, 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 9:30 p.m. 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 Aug. 4 to Aug. 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 Islamic State 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 ‘All-hu 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’s Champs Elysees.

France has been subject to state of emergency legislation, giving police extended powers, since the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris.

Over 100 other people have been killed in other Islamist terror attacks in France in the past two-and-a-half years.