French anti-terrorism police have launched a massive manhunt for a person who attacked a soldier on patrol in the La Defense business district in Paris.

The man had attacked the soldier with a knife or a box cutter, severely injuring him in the neck before fleeing, by mingling with Saturday afternoon shoppers. The soldier is recovering.

The attacker has been described as “a bearded man from North Africa” who was wearing a Djellaba (a traditional robe). Security cameras showed him taking off his robe and running away wearing European clothes, said police officers.

Though French President Francois Hollande, currently on a trip to Ethiopia, warned that no conclusions should be drawn before an investigation is complete, French authorities are treating this as another “lone-wolf” attack.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said the extreme violence of the attack suggested a similarity with the Woolwich murder in London. However, he said it was too early in the day to provide any definite answers.

“Everything is being done to arrest this individual. The attacker had intended to kill,” Mr. Valls said.

Attack on base

But Defence Minister Jean-Yves Drian was more categorical. “This man was attacked because he was a soldier,” he told journalists.

French interests are high on the agenda of Islamic terrorists in Africa, particularly in Niger and Mali. Last week, gunmen presumed to belong to the movement al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacked a French military base in Niger. Twenty-four soldiers and one civilian were killed.

France has tightened security but the Vigipirate anti-terrorist plan will remain at “reinforced red”, a stage lower than the absolute “scarlet alert” that signifies a major terrorist threat, authorities said.

The murder of three French soldiers by another “lone-wolf” attacker Mohamed Merah last year is fresh in public memory. Merah (23), a radicalised youngster who had made trips to Pakistan to receive terrorism training, also killed the head of a Jewish school and his eight-year-old daughter. Police killed him in his Toulouse apartment after fierce fighting. In his confession Merah had said he had been asked by his Pakistani mentors to target the Indian embassy in Paris.

As a result, new security measures have been introduced at the Indian mission here.

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