Soldiers thwart attack on Louvre
Paris was plunged into panic Friday — again — when soldiers guarding the Louvre Museum shot an attacker who lunged at them with a machete and shouted “Allahu Akbar!” as the historic landmark went into lockdown.
The threat appeared to quickly recede after the assailant was hospitalized, but it cast a new shadow over the city just as tourism was beginning to rebound after a string of deadly attacks. The timing was also unfortunate: just hours before Paris finalized its bid for the 2024 Olympics.
The suspect is believed to be an Egyptian national, two police union officials said, though no other information about his identity or motive was released.
Anti-terrorism prosecutors took charge of the investigation into what French President Francois Hollande said was “no doubt” a terrorist attack.
Police carried out raids near the tree-lined Champs-Elysees linked to the attack, which came two months after authorities carried out a special antiterrorism exercise around the Louvre.
Friday’s attack targeted an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the sprawling museum, a medieval former royal palace now home to the Mona Lisa and hundreds of other masterpieces.
The 1,200 people inside the Louvre — one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions — were first shuttled into windowless rooms as part of a special security protocol before being evacuated.
The museum in central Paris remained closed for the rest of Friday but will reopen on Saturday, Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay told reporters.
Hollande, at a news conference Malta where he was attending a European Union summit, said that while the Louvre incident was quickly contained, the overall threat to France remains. He said the incident showed the need for the increased security patrols deployed around France since attacks in 2015.
Police union official Yves Lefebvre said the Louvre attacker was carrying two backpacks and had two machetes. He said the man lunged at the soldiers when they told him he couldn’t bring his bags into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall.
“That’s when he got the knife out and that’s when he tried to stab the soldier,” Lefebvre said.
The four soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker before opening fire, said Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the military force that patrols Paris and its major tourist attractions.
The military patrols — numbering about 3,500 soldiers in the Paris area — were deployed following the January 2015 attacks on Paris’ satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and reinforced after the November 2015 bomb-and-gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city’s Bataclan concert hall and other sites.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux praised the soldiers, saying “to wear a uniform, as we can see in the propaganda of those who want to attack us, is to be a target.”
One soldier was slightly injured in the scalp, officials said. Another soldier opened fire, gravely wounding the attacker in the stomach, said police chief Michel Cadot. “He is conscious and he was moving.”
Checks of the man’s two backpacks found they didn’t contain explosives, Cadot said. He said a second person who was “acting suspiciously” also was arrested but appeared not to have been linked to the attack.
Armed police officers patrol in the courtyard of the Louvre museum near where a soldier opened fire after he was attacked in Paris, Friday.