PARIS (Reuters) – A French policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in central Paris on Thursday night in an attack carried out days before presidential elections and quickly claimed by the Islamic State militant group.
President Francois Hollande said he was convinced the “cowardly killing” on the Champs Elysees boulevard, in which the assailant was himself shot dead by police, was an act of terrorism.
The wide avenue that leads away from the Arc de Triomphe had been crowded with Parisians and tourists enjoying a spring evening, but police quickly cleared the area, which remained empty well into the night of all but heavily armed security forces and police vehicles.
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the man had been identified, but investigators were still assessing if he had accomplices.
A police arrest warrant issued earlier on Thursday, which was seen by Reuters after the attack, warned of a dangerous individual who had come into France by train from Belgium on Thursday. It was unclear if that man was the attacker or linked to the shooting.
Officers searched the home of the dead attacker in a town east of Paris, a police source said.
“The sense of duty of our policemen tonight averted a massacre … they prevented a bloodbath on the Champs Elysees,” Interior Minister Matthias Fekl told reporters.
France has lived under a state of emergency since 2015 and has suffered a spate of Islamist militant attacks mostly perpetrated by young men who grew up in France and Belgium and that have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.
Witness Chelloug, a kitchen assistant, told Reuters he was walking out of a shop and saw a man get out of a car and open fire with a rifle on a policeman.
“The policeman fell down. I heard six shots, I was afraid. I have a two year-old girl and I thought I was going to die… He shot straight at the police officer.”
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s shooting via its Amaq news agency, naming the attacker as Abu Yousif al-Belgiki.