Officers reported they had also traced and arrested a female passenger said to be the suspect’s partner and owner of the car.
Investigators are now interviewing the man, who was arrested at a housing estate in Grenoble, to establish if he was at the wheel at the time of the incident and whether it was a terrorist attack. The car was driven towards a group of soldiers who were returning from a football match near their barracks at about 9am in Varces-Allières-et-Risset, near Grenoble.
“The soldiers managed to get up onto the pavement without being hit,” army spokesman Col Benoît Brulon said. “They lost sight of him, but on their return [to barracks] he tried to drive into them,” Brulon added. The suspect, who was driving a black Peugeot 208, then sped off. Police sealed off the area and began a search for the driver and a second person reportedly in the vehicle, while soldiers joined the hunt and the army stepped up security around the barracks. Local schools went into lock down.
“A person tried to run down two soldiers from the 93rd mountain artillery regiment in Varces, for unknown reasons,” a source close to the investigation told Reuters. “Given the context, the incident is being taken seriously but we don’t know his motivations. No one was injured.”
Local paper Le Dauphiné Libéré said the soldiers who were attacked were from the 7th mountain infantry and the vehicle had first stopped at a traffic light where the driver began shouting insults, reportedly in Arabic. The prosecutor confirmed the driver had shouted insults at two groups of soldiers playing football near the barracks several times early on Thursday morning, but gave no further details.
France is on high alert after an Islamic State loyalist went on a rampage in south-west France last Friday, killing four people including a gendarme who took the place of a hostage in a supermarket siege. Funerals for the four victims of the attack in the town of Carcassonne and nearby Trèbes, including the heroic officer, Arnaud Beltrame, were taking place on Thursday.
Paying tribute to Beltrame at a national ceremony in Paris on Wednesday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said the officer’s act of self-sacrifice would “remain etched in French hearts”. More than 240 people have been killed in a series of jihadist attacks around France over the past three years, and the security forces have been targeted on several occasions.
In April 2017, a policeman was shot dead while on duty on the Champs Élysées in Paris. Four months later, a man rammed his car into a group of soldiers on anti-terror patrol in the western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, injuring six people. The 93rd mountain artillery regiment based near Grenoble came under attack two years ago in a similar incident. Soldiers were patrolling around the local mosque in Valence when the driver of a Peugeot rammed them three times before they shot him. The suspect, a 29-year-old Frenchman of Tunisian origin, has been accused of attempted murder.