French anti-terrorist police are searching for a man who stabbed a soldier in the neck in a business neighbourhood west of Paris before fleeing the scene on Saturday night.
The 25-year-old soldier, Private First Class Cedric Cordier, was patrolling in uniform with two other troops in a shopping area adjoining the station at La Défense as part of France’s Vigipirate anti-terror surveillance plan.
He was approached from behind at around 6pm and attacked with a knife or box-cutter. Cordier was wounded in the neck and is being treated in hospital, but his injuries are not life-threatening. He lost a large amount of blood but his condition was said to be “satisfactory” on Sunday afternoon.
Initial reports said the attacker had said nothing and made no comment during the attack. He is still on the run. News agencies reported that police were hunting for a man who was about 30 years old and possibly of North African origin and bearded.
The area where the attack took place was heavily monitored by CCTV run by the Paris transport network and shopping centre and police are sifting through footage. The investigation is being run by the state anti-terrorism unit.
The soldier who was attacked was walking behind other soldiers who did not witness the assailant before he fled.
French ministers urged caution on drawing comparisons to or links with the recent killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London.
The interior minister, Manuel Valls, said the sudden violence of the attack was similar to the London murder but he stressed it was too early to offer any theories on who had carried out the attack or why.
“Let’s be prudent for now,” Valls said. “Everything is being done to arrest this individual.” He said the attacker had intended to kill.
On a visit to Ethiopia on Saturday night, the French president, François Hollande, was cautious on making any comparison to the Woolwich murder.
“I don’t think at this stage that there could be a link,” he said, adding: “We must look at all options and won’t neglect any.”
Christophe Crepin, spokesman for the police union Unsa, said there were similarities with the London attack. “I think this person wanted to imitate what happened in London,” he told Itele television.
The defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told journalists near the site of the attack in Paris: “The soldier was attacked because he is a soldier.”
France is on high alert for attacks by Islamist militants following its military intervention in Mali in January, which prompted threats against French interests from Aqim, the north African wing of al-Qaida.
The latest warning was published on YouTube a few weeks before armed gunmen last week attacked a military base and a French uranium extraction site in the central African state of Niger, killing 24 soldiers and one civilian.
Valls said France would retain its terror alert level at “red, reinforced”, one step down from “scarlet”, which is activated only in case of a serious and confirmed attack.
France is still reeling from the murders last year of three French paratroopers by Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old unemployed panel-beater from Toulouse, who went on a 10-day killing spree across south-west France.
Police were criticised for not tracking down Merah after two separate shooting incidents against soldiers before he then went on to shoot dead three children and a rabbi at the gates of a Jewish school. Questions remain over failings in the operation and how Merah – who claimed inspiration from al-Qaida, was heavily armed, on police intelligence files and had been under surveillance – was not picked up earlier and his attacks prevented.