A gunman opened fire on police Thursday night on Paris’ iconic Champs-Elysees boulevard, killing one officer and wounding three people before police shot and killed him. The Islamic State group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which hit just three days before a tense presidential election.
Security has already been a big theme in the campaign, and the violence on Champs-Elysees boulevard threatened to affect voters’ decisions. Candidates have cancelled or rescheduled final campaign events ahead of Sunday’s first round vote.
Investigators searched a Paris home believed to be linked to the attack early Friday. Police document obtained by The Associated Press identifies the address searched as the family home of Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old with a criminal record. Archive reports by French newspaper Le Parisien say that Cheurfi was convicted of attacking a police officer in 2001.
Authorities are trying to determine whether “one or more people” might have helped the attacker, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters at the scene of the shooting.
One officer was killed and two police officers were seriously wounded when the attacker emerged from a car and used an automatic weapon to shoot at officers outside a Marks & Spencer’s department store at the center of the Champs-Elysees, anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said.
A female foreign tourist also was wounded, Molins said.
The Islamic State group’s claim of responsibility just a few hours after the attack came unusually swiftly for the extremist group, which has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria.
In a statement from its Amaq news agency, the group gave a pseudonym for the shooter, Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki, saying he was Belgian or had lived in Belgium. Belgian authorities said they had no information about the suspect.
The attacker had been flagged as an extremist, according to two police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to publicly discuss the investigation.
Brandet said officers were “deliberately” targeted, as has happened repeatedly to French security forces in recent years, including in the run-up to the 2012 election.
Police and soldiers sealed off the area, ordering tourists back into hotels and blocking people from approaching the scene.
Emergency vehicles blocked the wide Champs-Elysees, and subway stations were closed off.
The gunfire sent scores of tourists fleeing into side streets.
“They were running, running,” said 55-year-old Badi Ftaïti, who lives in the area. “Some were crying. There were tens, maybe even hundreds of them.”
French President Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting with the prime minister Thursday night, and planned to convene the defense council Friday morning.
The incident follows two recent attacks on soldiers providing security at prominent locations around Paris: one at the Louvre museum in February and one at Orly airport last month.
Speaking in Washington during a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, U.S. President Donald Trump said the shooting “looks like another terrorist attack” and sent condolences to France.
A French television station hosting an event with the 11 candidates running for president briefly interrupted its broadcast to report the shootings.
The two top finishers in Sunday’s election will advance to a runoff on May 7.