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Soldiers shot dead in southern France

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A gunman riding a scooter has shot dead two soldiers and seriously wounded another in the southwestern French city of Montauban.

Officials said the gunman, wearing a helmet with visor, got down from the scooter, fired on the three uniformed soldiers on a street near shops and a bank branch, then got back on and drove off at speed.

The attack followed a similar shooting on Sunday in the nearby city of Toulouse when an off-duty soldier was shot dead by an assailant on a motorcycle.

The motive of Thursday's shooting was not immediately clear, but officials said they believed the shooter had acted alone and described the attack as a "criminal act".

"All avenues and motives of a very different nature must be considered, from an individual act to something that was collective and organised. We don't know," Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said.

Asked if he thought the attack targeted the military itself, Longuet said: "I don't think so, I hope not... But for the moment there is nothing that rules out this or that theory."

The injured soldier was airlifted to the city of Toulouse for treatment and his life was in danger, the defence ministry said.

Local officials said the shooting took place on a street not far from the base housing the 17th parachute regiment, to which the victims - aged between 24 and 28 - belonged.

Investigators found 15 spent cartridges at the scene, police said.

Police set up roadblocks around Montauban, in a major deployment to hunt for the gunman.

A 30-year-old soldier in civilian clothes was shot dead in the nearby city of Toulouse at the weekend.

Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet said they were asking "serious questions" about the similarities between the two incidents.

"The circumstances are confusing and at this time we cannot give any kind of explanation," President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters. "It is a murder, that is undeniable, but we cannot say what the motives were."

Thursday's victims were from a 1,000-strong unit of sappers specialised in mine and explosives clearance, breaching fortifications and urban warfare.

In recent years the 17th RGP has often been deployed on operations in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Balkans.


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