A known terror suspect shot dead a French policeman and wounded two others Thursday on Paris’s Champs Élysées in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group days before France holds a presidential election.
Observers had long feared bloodshed ahead of Sunday’s vote following a string of atrocities since 2015 and the violence is likely to thrust security to the front of voters’ minds.
The shooter opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police van on the world-famous boulevard at around 9:00 pm Paris time, prompting tourists and visitors to run for their lives.
After killing the officer and injuring his colleagues just a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe, the gunman was shot dead in return fire while trying to flee on foot, according to police sources.
A statement from the Islamic State group published by its propaganda agency Amaq said the attacker was “one of the Islamic State’s fighters.”
The killer, identified as a 39-year-old French man, was reportedly known to anti-terror police, and raids took place at his address in a middle class neighbourhood in a suburb to the east of Paris.
He was condemned to 15 years in prison in February 2005 on three counts of attempted murder, including against police officers.
State of emergency
The bustling Champs Elysées lies in the heart of Paris and is lined with shops and restaurants. It was immediately blocked by armed officers after the attack and nearby metro stations were closed.
“We had to hide our customers in the basement,” Choukri Chouanine, manager of a restaurant near the site of the shooting, told AFP, saying there was “lots of gunfire.”
A spokesman for the interior ministry paid tribute to the fast reflexes of police at the scene who managed to kill the gunman and prevent further bloodshed on a busy spring evening.
A foreign tourist was slightly wounded in her knee by shrapnel during the shooting.
France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of terror alert.
The Charlie Hebdo magazine was hit in January 2015, sites around Paris including the Bataclan concert hall were targeted in November the same year, and families at a fireworks display in Nice in July 2016.
In between, there have been a series of smaller attacks, often aimed at security forces.
Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs Elysées or other potential targets, including government buildings and religious sites.
In February, a man armed with a machete in each hand attacked soldiers on patrol at Paris’s Louvre Museum. The attacker, a 29-year-old Egyptian, was seriously injured.
And in March, a 39-year-old man was killed at Paris’s Orly airport after attacking a soldier.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)