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Two soldiers shot dead in southwest France

A gunman on a motorbike opened fire on three French paratroopers at a bank machine in southern France, killing two and critically wounding one of them Thursday, officials said. It was the second such attack in a week targeting French soldiers in a public place.

The incident occurred in Montauban around 2:10 p.m. local time (9:10 a.m. ET), police said, according to France's Le Figaro newspaper (link in French).

The incident follows a shooting on Sunday in Toulouse, 29 miles south of Montauban, in which a gunman on a motorcycle shot dead another soldier.

The three soldiers, who were reportedly wearing their uniforms, were near some shops and a bank when the helmeted gunman opened fire and then fled on his scooter, Le Figaro said.

The BBC reported that the soldiers were trying to withdraw cash from an ATM near a military base housing France's 17th Parachute Engineer Regiment. Montauban is some 390 miles southwest of Paris.

Two paratroopers -- aged 26 and 24 years old, respectively -- died on the spot. The third, 28, was critically injured.

Defense Minister Gerard Longuet expressed his condolences to the soldiers, their families and their regiment. French officials said a large number of police officers are searching for the gunman.

Earlier, the Defense Ministry had issued a statement saying all three paratroopers had died, but a local police official and a Defense Ministry official later said one of them was in critical condition.

The motives for the shootings are unclear. Police said further investigation was needed before they could determine whether the attacks were linked.

Witnesses said Sunday's attacker was also on a motorcycle and wearing a helmet, according Toulouse Prosecutor Michel Valet.

Valet said the soldier in that attack was on his day off. He was in the courtyard of a gym in a residential neighborhood during the afternoon when the attacker opened fire, then fled. The soldier was shot in the head.

The solider served in the 1st paratrooper train regiment, based in Francazal, south of Toulouse.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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