MARSEILLE: A knifeman killed two women at the main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille on Sunday before being shot dead by soldiers on patrol.
One of the victims had her throat slit by the assailant, a man with a criminal record believed to be in his 30s.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said about a dozen witnesses were being questioned.
“This act could be terrorist in nature but at this time we cannot confirm that,” he added.
Soldiers serving in a special 7,000-strong force known as Sentinelle set up to guard vulnerable areas in terror-hit France responded to the stabbings and shot dead the attacker, whose identity remains unknown.
“I was on the esplanade just in front of the station,” Melanie Petit, an 18-year-old student, told AFP. “I saw a man who seemed to be dressed all in black.”
Heavily armed police sealed off and evacuated the ornate rail terminus in the bustling heart of France´s second-biggest city, stopping all train traffic on some of the country´s busiest lines.
The latest deaths came with France still on high alert and under a state of emergency following a string of attacks in recent years by extremists linked to the Daesh group or Al-Qaeda.
Since 2015, a total of 239 people have been killed in France.
After the lunchtime attack, anti-terror prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into “killings linked to a terrorist organisation” and the “attempted killing of a public official”.
Travellers around the station described “controlled panic” as security forces evacuated passengers and looked for possible accomplices, while another witness said white sheets were placed over the bodies of the victims.
“There were police everywhere,” said Francois Jacquel, a retired traveller who was in a waiting room.
The country has suffered several major terror attacks since 2015, including on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January of that year followed by an assault on Paris bars and the Bataclan concert hall by gunmen 10 months later.
In Nice in July 2016, 86 people were killed when an extremist drove a truck into crowds after a fireworks display on Bastille Day.
But there have also been numerous smaller attacks on police officers, soldiers or members of the public since then, sometimes carried out by people with severe psychological problems.
Since November 2015, the country has been in a state of emergency which gives the government and security forces greater powers to combat extremists and launch anti-terror raids.
Controversial security law
New centrist President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to end the state of emergency with a new and controversial security law that will make many of the provisions of the emergency regime permanent.
Despite criticism from rights groups that the law reduces judicial oversight over the actions of the police, the lower house of parliament is set to vote on a first draft of the legislation on Tuesday.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe vowed: “We will not lower our guard.”
In August, a man driving a van killed one person and seriously injured another after ploughing into a bus stop in Marseille, raising fears of another terror incident.
But doctors said later the man had severe mental problems and discounted any terror link.