One police officer has been killed in Paris and two wounded, one seriously, after an attacker opened fire on the central boulevard of the Champs-Elysées.
The shooter was also killed, and according to a police source was known to France’s DGSI security sources.
President Hollande has said he was convinced it was a terrorist attack. He held an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace on Thursday night and is due to meet top security, defence and intelligence officials on Friday.
The attack comes barely three days before the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday. The choice of one of the world’s most famous avenues is seen as symbolic.
According to Reuters, the so-called Islamic State has claimed via its Amaq propaganda agency that one of its “fighters” carried out the attack, naming him as “The Belgian”.
However other reports, unconfirmed but quoting sources close to the inquiry, have suggested the suspect may be a French national.
The Paris prosecutor François Molins said sometime after midnight (CET) that the gunman had been identified, but his name would not be revealed until investigators determined whether he had accomplices. An official anti-terrorist inquiry has been opened.
The events began unfolding shortly before 9pm local time (CET). The French Interior Ministry has said that a car pulled up by a stationary police minivan. An attacker is then said to have got out of the vehicle and opened fire with an automatic weapon, fatally wounding the officer. Two others were wounded and a passer-by – a tourist – was also hurt by a ricochet.
The assailant was shot dead by other police officers, who checked his car for explosives.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesperson for the French Interior Ministry, refuted reports of two police officers dying in the incident. He confirmed the police officers were deliberately targeted.
There were reports of another shooting but the Interior Ministry spokesman then confirmed there was only one incident being investigated in relation to the police shooting.
STOP DJIHADISME (@stopdjihadisme) April 20, 2017
The French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl paid tribute to the “young” police officer who had been killed – and to the other officers who he said had stopped civilians from being killed by shooting the attacker dead.
The Paris prosecutor said that of the two police officers who were wounded, one was seriously hurt while the other was slightly injured.
According to a police source quoted by the AFP news agency, the suspected gunman’s home in the Seine-et-Marne department to the east of Paris has been raided after the attack.
Earlier, Reuters reported a police source as saying an arrest warrant had been issued for a potential second suspect who had arrived from Belgium by train, but there was no later confirmation.
Location of the shooting
The first shots are believed to have been fired outside Marks and Spencer on the famous boulevard.
Authorities asked people to stay away from the area.
No vehicles or pedestrians were allowed onto the Champs-Elysées in the wake of the incident. Several metro stations were shut down as a safety measure. The area was placed on lockdown.
Intervention de police en cours sur le secteur des #ChampsElysees Evitez le secteur et respectez les consignes des forces de police— Préfecture de police (@prefpolice) April 20, 2017
A low-flying helicopter was seen over the road shortly after the incident, Reuters reported. The news agency said it appeared to be part of a follow-up police operation.
Eyewitnesses reported being held indoors in parts of the capital in the immediate vicinity of the Champs-Elysées, including a cinema on the nearby rue Lincoln.
Armed officers taking position behind a kiosk. pic.twitter.com/Gf2ykCOq61— Ralph (@vanderpauw) 20 Nisan 2017
Security has been high on the agenda in the run-up to the first round of the French presidential election, on April 23.
The attack came as all 11 presidential candidates were taking part in the final live TV debate before the vote. All condemned the murder and expressed their solidarity with the victims. The programme was almost entirely devoted to the events of Thursday night.
President Hollande, who is not standing for re-election, said that a national tribute would be organised for the dead policeman.
Earlier this week two men were arrested in Marseille who police said had been planning an attack ahead of the election.
US President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the people of France, saying it “looked like” another terrorist attack. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who was with Trump, also offered his sympathy.
Figures suggest death by shooting is not a regular occurrence among French police officers. In 2015, six officers were killed by gunfire.
The statistics for 2016 are not yet available.
CEP (@FightExtremism) April 20, 2017