A police officer stands near the area where 23-year-old French soldier… (Etienne Laurent / European…)
PARIS — An attack on a French soldier who was stabbed in the neck while patrolling outside a Paris train station appears to have been an act of terrorism, but there are no clear links to the hacking death of a British soldier in London last week, authorities said Sunday.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was evident that the victim was targeted because he was a soldier. Interior Minister Manuel Valls told France 5 television there were "elements" that led police to believe it was a terrorist act.
"I cannot say more at this stage as the inquiry has only just begun," he said.
The 23-year-old French soldier, Pfc. Cedric Cordier, was patrolling the busy underground corridors beneath La Defense arch in the French capital's business district with two other soldiers when an attacker approached him from behind shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, authorities said. They said Cordier was stabbed in the neck with a knife or box cutter that narrowly missed his carotid artery.
The soldier was taken to a hospital, where doctors said his life was not in danger. The attacker, who fled into a nearby shopping center, was described as of North African appearance and around 30 years old. He was still being sought on Sunday.
The area where the attack occurred adjoins the busy La Defense train station and is monitored by video cameras run by the city transport network. Investigators were going through footage.
President Francois Hollande, on an official visit to Ethiopia, said "all hypotheses" would be investigated, apparently including the possibility that the attack was linked to the death of British soldier Lee Rigby on Wednesday.
"At this stage, I don't think there's a link, but we're asking all our soldiers to be even more aware and vigilant," Hollande said.
Rigby, 25, was first run down by a car before two men jumped from the vehicle and attacked him with a knife and meat cleaver.
The assailants were said to have cried "God is great" in Arabic as they attacked Rigby, leading to suggestions that they were part of an Islamic extremist group. The suspects were later shot by police and are now under hospital arrest. Three others were arrested Saturday and one other man Sunday on suspicion of being involved in the case.
One of the suspects arrested at the scene of Rigby's killing, Michael Adebolajo, was arrested in Kenya in 2010 while apparently preparing to train and fight with Al Qaeda-linked Somali militants, a Kenyan anti-terrorism police official said Sunday. Another Kenyan official said Adebolajo had been handed over to British authorities in the East African country and "seems to have found his way to London."
Christophe Crepin, a spokesman for the French police union, said he believed there were similarities between the attacks in London and Paris. "I think this person wanted to imitate what happened in London," he told French television.
France has been on heightened security alert since it launched a military intervention in Mali in January to drive out Islamic fundamentalists who had been pushing through the African country from the north.
Willsher is a special correspondent. The Associated Press contributed to this report.