France opens terror probe against Eiffel Tower attacker

French prosecutors have launched a terror investigation into the knife-wielding teenager who tried to breach security at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The eighteen-year-old was reportedly a patient at a mental hospital.

French prosecutors said they had begun the investigation because of the suspect’s statements to police. He said he wanted to attack a soldier and had been in contact with a member of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group who had encouraged him to act.

Just before midnight Saturday, the French national born in Mauritania had pushed past a security guard at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower in the center of Paris and approached a soldier. He was carrying a blade and shouting “Allahu akhbar” or “God is great” in Arabic. Quickly surrounded by soldiers at the site he surrendered without resistance. No one was injured and no shots were fired.

Security forces, deployed as part of the ongoing Sentinel operation launched following previous terror attacks, evacuated the tower as a precaution around 00:30, some 15 minutes before its normal closing time.

The tower had been lit in the colors of French soccer team PSG at the time as a welcome to Brazilian player Neymar, who had just joined the club in a record transfer deal from Barcelona.

The monument opened normally on Sunday.

The suspect was born in the west African country of Mauritania in 1998 and has a history of mental troubles. He has been in a psychiatric hospital for several months but was granted weekend leave.

The police initially classified the incident as a common crime due to the suspect’s mental issues. However, anti-terror prosecutors took over the investigation after his statements about contacting the IS group.

According to a source close to the investigation, the suspect was convicted in December last year on charges of defending acts of terrorism and for making death threats. He was given a four-month suspended sentence.

The latest attack on the Eiffel Tower comes after several attacks on famous Parisian landmarks earlier in the year. An Egyptian man armed used a machete to attack a patrol of soldiers at the Louvre in February, injuring one, before he was shot by the security forces. Another extremist killed a policeman on the Champs-Elysees in April, and a 40-year-old Algerian attacked a policeman with a hammer outside Notre Dame cathedral in June.

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