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Driving Rampages On Pedestrians In France Rattle Nerves


In France, more than 20 people have been injured in the past two days by motorists driving their vehicles into crowds. There were two separate incidents. The government says the acts were not coordinated and that the drivers are not terrorists. But the attacks have rattled people just days before Christmas. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: French television showed a white van in the middle of a Christmas market in the western town of Nantes. Monday evening as people were shopping, a man drove that van into the pedestrian zone, injuring 11 people. Four are in critical condition.

The attack came a day after another motorist ran down pedestrians in the Eastern city of Dijon, injuring 13. The Dijon driver screamed, God is great, in Arabic during his rampage. The prosecutor says in both cases the drivers were mentally unstable. One was a diagnosed schizophrenic; the other was under guardianship because of his mental frailty. He plunged a knife into his neck and tried to kill himself after hitting the pedestrians.

Still, people are on edge. The driving rampages come just three days after a young man stabbed and wounded three police officers near the French city of Tours. In that case, there was a suspected terrorist link. The man had posted the black flag of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, on his Facebook page and was under surveillance by authorities as a suspected jihadist. He was killed by police during the attack. ISIS has called on its followers to attack France for participating in U.S.-led bombing raids against it.



BEARDSLEY: Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the vehicle attacks were not connected and had nothing to do with terrorism. But he said the country must remain vigilant. We have never been in more danger from terrorism than today, said Valls. Valls said France had more than a thousand citizens already fighting with or desiring to join jihadists in Syria. That's more than any other European country. What we fear, said Valls, is a widening and rapid radicalization of young people. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.