- Paris gunman was known to police
- French authorities know his identity, won’t release it while police search for accomplices
- Officers detain three of the gunman’s family members
- A second suspect flagged by Belgian authorities has turned himself in to police in Antwerp
- ISIL claims responsibility for the attack
One police officer has been shot dead and two others wounded on Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue after a gunman opened fire in an attack that apparently targeted officers.
French President Francois Hollande said he is convinced the attack was “terrorist-related”. The attack took place at roughly 21:00 local time Thursday.
According to early indications, the gunman drove up next to officers, stepped out of his car and, using an automatic weapon, shot at police officers in a parked bus.
The attack took place not far from the Georges V metro station, outside Marks & Spencer, next to the Rue de Berri.
One policeman was fatally wounded by the initial burst of fire and, as the gunman attempted to run away wounded two other officers. The gunman was then shot dead by French security forces.
One eye-witness told Reuters he had heard six shots fired.
The attack comes in the same week as a high-profile anti-terror probe in Marseille in which two French nationals were arrested on suspicions of planning an imminent attack.
French media report the gunman was a 39-year old French national who was known to intelligence services for previous violent crimes.
It is reported by France 24 the gunman had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in February 2005 on “three counts of attempted murder, including against police officers.”
France’s France 2 news channel reported the suspect was recently detained by police in the town of Meaux on suspicion of trying to buy weapons to kill police officers. But with insufficient evidence, the suspect was released.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor said Friday morning there was no indication yet the identity of the Paris attacker was Belgian.
French police on Friday morning detained three of the gunman’s family members following police searches and raids after the attack.
Earlier on Thursday, French police had issued an arrest warrant for what they alleged was a dangerous individual who travelled by train to France from Belgium, although it is unclear if the warrant is linked to this latest attack in central Paris.
A spokesperson for France’s Interior Ministry said on Friday morning that police were initially searching for a man identified by Belgian security services in connection with the attack.
But that possible second suspect would turn himself in to police in Antwerp.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the shooting and supposedly named the gunman on social media.
Shortly after midnight, Paris prosecutor François Molins said police had identified the gunman, but will not reveal his identity as police are still investigating whether he was working with accomplices.
The shooting, three days before France’s first round presidential election vote, prompted a counter-terrorism inquiry and police searches at the alleged gunman’s home in Chelles, an outer eastern Parisian district.
The attack also prompted an emergency security council meeting with the President which took place shortly after 08:00 on Friday at the Elysée presidential palace.
In attendance were an estimated 15 people: Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the ministers of the Interior, Justice, Defence and Foreign Affairs, as well as security, defence and intelligence officials.
PM Cazeneuve said the government and French security forces are fully mobilised following the shooting and that nothing will stop France’s election from taking place.
He said all elite units were on alert to back up the 50,000 police officers already mobilised to ensure security.
“The sense of duty of our policemen tonight averted a massacre … they prevented a bloodbath on the Champs-Elysees,” said France’s Interior Minister Matthias Felk after the attack had taken place.
ISIL floods social media
As the attack unfolded in Paris, observers on social media noticed what appeared to be a coordinated ISIL propaganda campaign, reinforcing the possibility the attack was sanctioned by the Islamist terror group.
ISIL claimed responsibility for shooting shortly after it took place, saying the gunman was an Islamist fighter on its Amaq propaganda agency.
The counter Extremism Project, a non-profit and non-partisan policy organisation whose mission is to fight extremist ideology said ISIL social media bots were hijacking hashtags in order to flood social media with pro-ISIL messages
Some of the messages appear to be old promotional videos addressed to French youths to rise up and commit acts of terror.