PARIS – A French teenager who tried to attack soldiers at the Eiffel Tower is undergoing a psychiatric examination to help determine whether he is fit for prosecution on terrorism charges.
Authorities say the 19-year-old man had been discharged from a psychiatric hospital soon before the tower incident Saturday, in which he brandished a knife at security forces and shouted “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great.” It was the latest of several attempted attacks on security forces guarding prominent French sites over the past year.
The man was quickly subdued and no one was hurt, though the monument was evacuated as a precaution. It was working as usual Sunday and Monday.
A judicial official said psychiatric experts are questioning the suspect Monday as investigators seek to learn more about his motives and whether he is fit to face a full-scale counterterrorism investigation.
Authorities initially classified the case as a minor crime by someone with a history of psychiatric problems. They later upgraded it to a counterterrorism probe after the suspect told police he had been in contact with an Islamic State group militant and wanted to attack a soldier, according to an official close to the investigation.
Both officials weren’t authorized to be publicly named.
BFM television ran an interview Monday with an unnamed man identified as the suspect’s father, saying the teen had been hospitalized on multiple occasions and that the family home had been searched in the past, notably after his son told police he had weapons and was in contact with an IS member who gave him passports.
The father insisted that “my son is not a jihadi,” and said that Saturday’s outburst might have been prompted by his parents’ refusal to give him a smartphone.
Police searched the family’s home in the Paris suburbs, but didn’t find any weapons. The suspect, who turned 19 Monday, was born in Mauritania but has French citizenship, the judicial official said.
Defense Minister Florence Parly sought to reassure tourists and Parisians by visiting troops guarding a park in the capital Monday. She said the Sentinelle security force created to protect sensitive sites after deadly Islamic extremist attacks in 2015 will remain in place “as long as it is useful.”