PARIS (Reuters) - A Muslim convert arrested on suspicion of stabbing a French soldier in a Paris suburb was motivated by religion and had shown some signs of radicalization, French authorities said on Wednesday.
The attack took place on May 25, three days after attackers chanting Islamist slogans killed a British soldier in London.
France has been on a security alert since January, when its troops began fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said authorities were treating the Paris attack as a terrorist act.
The suspect had been seen on a surveillance camera saying a Muslim prayer minutes before the assault on a soldier on patrol in the La Defense business district of Paris, he said.
“The nature of the incident, the fact it took place three days after London, and the prayer just before the act lead us to believe he acted on the basis of religious ideology and that his desire was to attack a representative of the state,” Molins told a news conference.
“It seems clear the intent was to kill.”
The soldier, who was attacked from behind with a knife, was released from hospital on Monday.
The suspect, identified by police as Alexandre Dhaussy, was arrested in a Paris suburb on Wednesday after being identified through fingerprints.
His age was originally given as 22 but authorities later clarified that he would reach that age on May 30.
Molins said the suspect was known to police for crimes such as theft and possession of firearms and that he converted to Islam as an adult. No details of his ethnicity were given.
Police later said Dhaussy had been identified by intelligence services for showing some signs of radicalization, but had not been considered dangerous and was not monitored any further.
He had, for instance, refused a job in 2011 that would mean he had to work alongside women and been checked by police in 2012 for acting suspiciously and not wanting to wait for a bus with women, police said.
France’s Muslim population is estimated at 5 million-6 million and is the biggest in Europe, the legacy of the French colonization of North and West Africa and subsequent waves of immigration into the suburbs of cities such as Paris, Marseille and Lyon.
In March 2012, the country was shocked by the killing of four Jews and three soldiers in and around the southern city of Toulouse by a radicalized French Muslim called Mohamed Merah, who was later shot dead by police.
That attack was the worst on French soil since bombings in 1995 on the underground train network by Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group that killed eight and wounded scores.
“This incident comes at a time of concern, threats, terrorist threats that this country has been receiving for the past few months. So we have to remain alert,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on i>Tele television of the Paris stabbing.
In Britain, the killing of the soldier in what the government said appeared to be a terrorist attack has led to protests against radical Islam and fears of a possible anti-Muslim backlash.
Additional reporting by Brian Love and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark John and Alison Williams