France urges vigilance after soldier shootings | News | DW | 16.03.2012
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France urges vigilance after soldier shootings

The French military has asked soldiers serving in south-western France to take off their uniforms when they leave the barracks. This follows two shootings targeting paratroopers in the past week.

France on Friday told soldiers serving in the south-west of the country not to leave their barracks wearing military uniform, responding to a pair of deadly drive-by shootings targeting paratroopers that may have been linked.

Two paratroopers were killed and one seriously wounded when standing at a cash machine in Montauban on Thursday, while one French soldier was shot dead in a separate attack in Toulouse four days earlier.

Both shootings were conducted by an unidentified assailant on a motorcycle wearing a crash helmet, and French news agency AFP reported on Friday that the prosecutor's office believed the attacks might be connected - having established that a .45-caliber handgun was used in both incidents. No motive or suspect was immediately apparent in either attack.

"The inquiry will establish if the same weapon was used or not," Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. "Right now, I can't say. I think that we will know during the day. It's the same caliber, but not necessarily the same weapon."

Foreign minister: too early to establish motive

The army issued a statement caling for "enhanced vigilance" from troops serving in south-western France, with one spokesman saying that soldiers "have notably been asked not to wear their uniform outside barracks."

The trio of paratroopers attacked in Montauban on Thursday were wearing uniform but the 30-year-old officer from the 1st Parachute Logistics Regiment was wearing civilian clothing when he was killed in Toulouse on Sunday.

Authorities have so far sought to play down speculation that the attacks might be linked to French military activity abroad, most notably as part of the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that "for now there is no proof or clue" of a link between the killings and the presence of French troops in Afghanistan.

"Let's not start to speculate about possible motives," Juppe said, branding the attacks as acts of "cowardly and unspeakable murder."

Judicial officials, who cannot reveal their names under French law as the investigation is ongoing, have said simply that they are examining several possible motives for the shootings. Prosecutors in Montauban said the 28-year-old soldier wounded on Thursday remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

French police, meanwhile, widened their search for the assailant on Friday, also broadening their investigative probe to include counterterrorism officials and specialists in serial killers.

msh/ng (AFP, AP)