Sniper Hunt

Could the sniper terrorizing greater Washington be a military cadet from France? While French law-enforcement authorities have alerted American counterparts to their concerns about a missing 25-year-old trainee officer, evidence linking him to the shootings is thin. The missing second lieutenant, whose Slavic-sounding name has been withheld at his family's request, was due back from a hiking trip in Canada and the United States by September 2. However, his family has not heard from him for more than seven weeks and he has not returned for his second year of training at the Ecole Militaire Interarmes of Coetqidan, an elite officer training school in Brittany. His last credit-card transaction took place in the United States last August.

French authorities alerted Interpol about the cadet over the weekend. Meanwhile, local newspapers have seized on the speculation under headlines like, "A GOOD SHOT FROM COETQIDAN HAS DISAPPEARED" and "ON THE TRAIL OF A DESERTER."

The missing man has received routine training on the FAMAS assault rifle, the French military equivalent of the M-16. The FAMAS, like the gun being used by the Washington sniper, is a .223 caliber weapon. But while the French press has singled out the cadet for his shooting abilities, school spokesman Cdr. Francois Guillermet cautions against making much of his marksmanship. "That came out of the hat of a journalist... He isn't better or worse than the other students here. He knows how to handle a weapon because that's his job."

Guillermet says both the school and the man's family believe his disappearance was the result of an accident--possibly a hiking mishap. "His family is stunned, grieving, and upset about the news reports," he says.