France says acid attack on 4 US students not seen as terror act

2017-09-18 06:14
(Thibault Camus, AP)

(Thibault Camus, AP)

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Paris - Four American college students were attacked with acid on Sunday at a train station in France, but French authorities so far do not think extremist views motivated the 41-year-old woman who was arrested as the alleged assailant, the local prosecutor's office and the students' school said.

Boston College, a private Jesuit university in Massachusetts, said in a statement on Sunday that the four female students were treated at a hospital for burns after they were sprayed in the face with acid in the city of Marseille. The statement said the four all were juniors studying abroad, three of them at the college's Paris program.

"It appears that the students are fine, considering the circumstances, though they may require additional treatment for burns," Nick Gozik, who directs Boston College's Office of International Programs. "We have been in contact with the students and their parents and remain in touch with French officials and the US Embassy regarding the incident."

Police in France described the suspect as "disturbed" and said the attack was not thought at this point to be terror-related, according the university's statement.

'History of mental health problems'

The Paris prosecutor's office said earlier on Sunday that its counter-terrorism division had decided for the time being not to assume jurisdiction for investigating the attack. The prosecutor's office in the capital, which has responsibility for all terror-related cases in France, did not explain the reasoning behind the decision.

A spokesperson for the Marseille prosecutor's office told The Associated Press in a telephone call that the suspect did not make any extremist threats or declarations during the late morning attack at the city's Saint Charles train station. She said there were no obvious indications that the woman's actions were terror-related.

The spokesperson spoke on condition of anonymity, per the custom of the French judicial system. She said all four of the victims were in their 20s and treated at a hospital, two of them for shock. The suspect was taken into police custody.

Boston College identified the students as Courtney Siverling, Charlotte Kaufman, Michelle Krug and Kelsey Kosten.

The Marseille fire department was alerted just after 11 am and dispatched four vehicles and 14 firefighters to the train station, a department spokesperson said.

Two of the Americans were "slightly injured" with acid but did not require emergency medical treatment from medics at the scene, the spokesperson said. She requested anonymity in keeping with fire department protocol.

A person with knowledge of the investigation said the suspect had a history of mental health problems but no apparent past links to extremism. The person was not authorized to be publicly named speaking about the investigation. Regional newspaper La Provence said the assailant remained at the site of the attack without trying to flee.

France has seen scattered attacks by unstable individuals as well as extremist violence in recent years, including in Marseille, a port city in southern France that is closer to Barcelona than Paris.

A driver deliberately rammed into two bus stops in Marseille last month, killing a woman, but officials said it wasn't terror-related.

In April, French police said they thwarted an imminent "terror attack" and arrested two suspected radicals in Marseille just days before the first round of France's presidential election. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters the two suspects "were getting ready to carry out an imminent, violent action." In January 2016, a 15-year-old Turkish Kurd was arrested after attacking a Jewish teacher on a Marseille street. He told police he acted in the name of the Islamic State group.

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