Monday, June 30, 2008

Was His Name Mohammed?

French Soldier, Pretending To Be a Terrorist, Opens Fire on Crowd

AFP - French officials were probing Monday an incident that left 17 people injured, including a child in critical condition, when soldiers used live rounds in a weekend visitors day display.

Fifteen civilians, including five children, and two soldiers were injured on Sunday when members of a marines parachute regiment demonstrated a hostage liberation exercise to visitors at their barracks outside the southwestern city of Carcassonne, regional officials said.

Four of the 17 were seriously injured, two critically, but doctors said early Monday that the condition of the worst injured had stabilised.

Hospitals in the southern cities and towns of Toulouse, Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan, as well as Carcassonne, were treating the injured.

One soldier, described as experienced with no history of behavioral or psychological problems, was detained following the incident.

Military and civilian investigators immediately opened probes into the events at the Third Marine Parachute Regiment barracks.

France's Defence Minister Herve Morin traveled to Carcassonne on Sunday evening to visit the injured.

"I have ordered an immediate inquiry ... to determine as quickly as possible the circumstances of this tragic incident," he said.

"One way or another something went wrong .... This type of incident is very rare and incomprehensible. There are procedures in place to prevent this kind of thing," he told journalists.

The minister said security measures were respected and that the soldier who fired the live rounds had an exemplary record.

"Security regulations were respected a priori ... use of blanks requires a distance of at least 10 metres (31 feet) from the public and the public was more than 10 metres away," said Morin.

"According to initial findings of the inquiry, the incident involved a soldier with a perfect record, who had participated in operations and had seven to eight years of experience. There is nothing that would make one think he had behavioral or psychological problems," he added.

The senior official for the Aude region where Carcassonne is located, Bernard Lemaire, said that investigators believed the deadly ammunition was loaded by mistake.

"The question being asked is 'Did the soldier engage in a criminal act or not?'," Lemaire said. "For now, no one can answer that, but the theory being worked on is one of error."