A man who had reportedly attempted to join the jihad in the Middle East previously has been accused of attacking three French soldiers on Tuesday, lunging at the troops with his knife while they were on guard outside a Jewish Community Center.
The suspect now in custody, Moussa Coulibaly, was a person of interest to French intelligence officials, according to a French security official who told the Associated Press.
Coulibaly was turned back by Turkish officials after he flew from France to Turkey on January 28 on a one-way ticket. Turkey is a known entry point for prospective jihadis who wish to join groups such as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah, which are fighting the Islamic holy wars in Syria and Iraq.
Coulibaly had “two huge knives that actually resembled more a machete,” said Philippe Pradel, a security officer in Nice, where the attack took place. “He freely attacked a soldier, but the knife was ineffective because the soldier was wearing a flak jacket. So then he tried to attack his face.”
A spokesperson for the Paris prosecutor’s office told the AP that they do not believe Moussa Coulibaly was related to Amedy Coulibaly, the man responsible for a brutal attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris. France has deployed more than 10,000 troops to areas that officials believe could be vulnerable to attacks, such as major population centers and Jewish institutions.
France has seen a surge in Muslim immigration over recent years, with an estimated population now exceeding five million. On the contrary, France’s Jewish population is leaving in droves, with many citing Islamic anti-Semitism as the chief issue forcing their departure. Over 7,000 French Jews left for Israel in 2014.