PARIS, France (Reuters) — Paris’ Champs-Elysees boulevard looked more like a combat zone than the tourist and shopping mecca it is on Thursday night (April 20) after a drive-up-and-shoot attack in which a police officer was killed.
Hundreds of police officers armed with machine guns, helmets or balaclavas and bullet-proof vests swarmed over an area of Paris popular with, but suddenly bereft of, late night shoppers, cafe customers and dance club revellers.
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.
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 attack was swiftly claimed by Islamic State.
It followed the arrest in southern France of two men suspected of planning an attack in a country whose jets are bombing the militant group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the man had been identified, but investigators were still assessing if he had accomplices. French television networks reported that he was a 39-year-old French national known for previous violent crimes.
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 incident came as French voters prepared go to the polls on Sunday (April 23) in the most tightly-contested presidential election in decades.
It has brought issues of security and immigration back to the forefront of the campaign.
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.