Two women have been stabbed to death and their assailant shot dead by a soldier in the southern French port city of Marseille in what officials describe as a “likely terrorist act”.
Police sources say the suspect had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) in Arabic as he carried out his attack on Sunday on the women, aged 17 and 20, at Marseille’s main railway station.
Two police sources say one had her throat slit while the other was stabbed in the chest and stomach.
The assailant was shot dead by a soldier from a military Sentinelle patrol, a force deployed across the country as part of a state of emergency declared after Islamist attacks that began almost two years ago.
“If the military had not been there, we would have had a lot more deaths,” Samia Ghali, lawmaker for the Marseille region, told France Bleu Province radio.
About 200 police officers had cordoned off the area and all roads were closed to traffic.
The suspect appeared to go by several identities, Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin told reporters on Sunday.
“I think it was a terrorist attack and the individual who was killed seems to have had several identities,” said Gaudin.
A police source added that a digital analysis of the suspect’s fingerprints came up with several aliases.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who was also addressing reporters in Marseille along with Gaudin, remained cautious on the nature of the act.
“This could be of a terrorist nature, but we cannot confirm it fully at this stage,” Collomb said.
A witness said she saw a man take out a knife from his sleeve and then stab a young girl and then a second woman, shouting what could have been “Allahu Akbar”.
Two police sources said the attacker had been carrying a butcher’s knife, was around 30 years old and of North African appearance. One source said he was known to police for common law crimes.
“We have generally avoided these sorts of attacks in Marseille,” regional president Renaud Muselier, who was speaking from the site of the killings, told BFM TV.
“I think the security services responded extremely quickly. It’s difficult to do more because when you see the distance between the two bodies and the attacker it’s only 10 metres, so they intervened quickly.”
President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter he was “disgusted by this barbaric act” and praised the calmness and efficiency of security forces, including the military.
“The presence of Sentinelle soldiers, their speed and efficiency ensured that the death count was not bigger,” police union official Stephane Battaglia said.
The French attack came as Canadian police investigated violent attacks in Edmonton as “acts of terrorism” after a man hit a police officer with a car before stabbing him and then later struck four pedestrians with a second vehicle.
The officer and the other victims were taken to the hospital for treatment of multiple injuries, police in the western Canadian city said on Saturday night local time.
Canada’s CTV News said the officer was expected to recover, although further details on the condition of the victims was not immediately available.
An Islamic State flag was found in the car that struck the officer, CTV reported, citing police.