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French police arrest suspect in soldier's stabbing

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Wed May 29, 2013
The suspected perpetrator (R) of the Sunday attack on a soldier is escorted to police headquarters in Paris on Wednesday.
The suspected perpetrator (R) of the Sunday attack on a soldier is escorted to police headquarters in Paris on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutor: The suspect, a convert to Islam, prayed before the attack
  • He has a record of petty crimes but was not known to security services, Molins says
  • The stabbed soldier was hospitalized Saturday with wounds to the neck
  • The soldier was on security patrol in La Defense, a business district of Paris

(CNN) -- French police arrested a man Wednesday in connection with the weekend stabbing of a soldier in a business district of Paris, according to the Ministry of Interior.

The suspect, who is being named only as "Alexandre," will turn 22 on Thursday, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said in a news conference broadcast by CNN affiliate BFMTV.

He converted to Islam when was about 18 years old, the prosecutor said.

The attack is believed to have been motivated by religious ideology because the suspect prayed less than 10 minutes beforehand, Molins said, and because it came only three days after a soldier was killed in London, by attackers who spoke of Islam.

In light of the evidence so far, police will continue to treat it as a terrorism incident, he said.

The serviceman, age 23, suffered wounds to the neck when the assailant attacked him from behind with a knife or box cutter as he patrolled the capital's La Defense neighborhood.

The attacker stabbed the soldier several times, Molins said.

The suspect was identified through security camera footage and traces of DNA found on a juice bottle he left along with a sweater in a bag near the scene, the prosecutor said.

He had a prior record of petty crimes committed when he was under 18 and is known to have been rebellious in his youth, but was not known to French security services, Molins said.

His details were in the national police database because of an identity check made in 2007 when he was praying in the street. At that time, he did not appear to represent any threat, Molins said.

Alexandre was arrested outside the home of a friend close to Les Yvelines, near Paris, where he had been staying because he has no permanent address, Molins said. Authorities do not believe the friend is connected to the attack, he added.

The suspect can be held in police custody for 96 hours without charges being filed. Molins praised the work of French investigators in identifying him in only four days.

The soldier was hospitalized with non-life-threatening wounds, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

"The aim was to kill the soldier because he was a soldier," Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the CNN affiliate on Saturday. The attacker wanted "to kill a soldier who is in charge of French security," he said.

The attacker was wearing a robe at the time of the assault, a police spokesman said.

The soldier was on patrol as part of a heightened security plan initiated in certain areas following France's intervention in Mali this year, French President Francois Hollande said.

UK police continue to investigate the attack on a British soldier hit by a car and then hacked to death in southeast London last Wednesday.

Moments after that assault, one of his alleged attackers was filmed saying the soldier was killed "because Muslims are dying daily" and that "we must fight them as they fight us," an apparent reference to British and coalition forces' roles in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CNN's Stephanie Halasz and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.

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