Knifeman attacks three French soldiers outside Jewish centre

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Three soldiers on an anti-terror patrol in the French city of Nice were attacked by a man with a knife yesterday.

The attacker was detained but two people with him are believed to have fled after the stabbing in the city centre, near the Galeries Lafayette department store.

Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said the knifeman had an identity card with the name Moussa Coulibaly.

The surname, which is relatively common for families of Malian descent, is the same as that of the man who seized hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris and gunned down a policewoman last month.

A police official said the attacker pulled a knife at least eight inches long out of a bag and set upon one of the soldiers, injuring him in the chin.

He then swiped two other soldiers – one on the cheek, the other on the forearm – before being apprehended by riot police stationed near the building, which houses the city’s Jewish community centre.

A manager at the centre, who did not want to be identified because she was afraid, confirmed that soldiers posted in front of the building were attacked. She said it happened around lunchtime and no-one was inside the office.

Mr Estrosi told BFM television that a possible accomplice had been detained.

France has been on high alert since the attacks in the Paris region by three Islamic extremists that left 20 people dead, including the gunmen.

More than 10,000 soldiers have been deployed around the country to protect sensitive locations, including major shopping areas, synagogues, mosques and transit hubs.

Earlier, French authorities arrested seven men and a woman suspected of involvement in a network to send fighters to join Islamic extremists in Syria.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said those arrested in the Paris and Lyon areas are not suspected of links to the January 7-9 attacks.

Police are trying to thwart new violence and find possible accomplices to three radical Islamic gunmen who attacked a kosher grocery store and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The men claimed allegiance to extremists in the Middle East.

Three of those arrested yesterday had travelled to Syria and returned in December 2014, a French official said, though it was unclear whether they joined the Islamic State group or another group.

The network began sending French fighters to Syria in May 2013, and at least one of them was killed there, the official said. Other members of the network are still in Syria.

The group did not appear to be involved in any particular plot, or linked to any other networks already broken up in France in recent months, the official added.

France has seen hundreds of home-grown radicals join extremists abroad, most linked to Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Mr Cazeneuve said recent atrocities by Islamic State – including the killing of two Japanese hostages – “only strengthen the government’s determination to fight terrorism every day and every hour”.

French authorities have come under criticism for being overzealous in cracking down on potential threats since the Paris attacks, arresting dozens for comments seen as defending terrorism and notably questioning an eight-year-old boy.