The man suspected of ramming a BMW into a group of soldiers near Paris is a 37-year-old Algerian who was known to police as a suspect in minor crimes but not as someone with radical beliefs, police said Thursday.
Hamou Benlatreche was living legally in France and had never been convicted of a crime, a police officer involved in the case told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak about an ongoing investigation. Police have not disclosed a motive for the attack.
Benlatreche’s name was on the letterbox for an apartment in a building in the suburb of Bezons, north of Paris, that police searched Wednesday night. Neighbors there refused to speak to reporters Thursday.
Six soldiers were hurt in Wednesday’s incident, though none had life-threatening injuries.
Benlatreche was arrested in northern France following a highway manhunt, police said. Police officers opened fire during the arrest to subdue him, and he was injured along with an officer hit by a stray police bullet, officials said. The suspect was hospitalized but police did not provide an update on his condition.
A police trainee only identified by his first name, Laurent, told Europe 1 radio that while driving on the highway north of Paris, he noticed a car passing at full speed with its windshield, hood and front bumper damaged.
“I thought, ‘It’s weird … I’m going to take the vehicle’s license plate,'” he said.
Mohammed Benlatreche, who identified himself as Hamou Benlatreche’s uncle, told BFM his nephew was a practicing Muslim who told his family he was working as a driver for deliveries and for Uber.
He said he was “stunned” when he heard the news. “It was not believable it was him.”
He said his nephew never showed any signs of radicalization.
Counterterrorism prosecutors opened an investigation on potential charges of attempted murder of security forces in connection with a terrorist enterprise, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
Authorities said the driver deliberately rammed his BMW into a cluster of soldiers as they emerged from a building in the suburb of Levallois-Perret to board vehicles for a new shift. The building is used as a staging point for soldiers in France’s operation to protect prominent sites, police officials said. It was the latest in what’s become a disturbingly familiar pattern of attacks targeting French security forces.