IS claims Champs-Élysées as­sault

Gun­man kills of­fi­cer, wounds three peo­ple; po­lice shoot at­tacker

Times Colonist - - Canada / World -

PARIS — A gun­man opened fire on po­lice on Paris’s iconic Champs-Élysées boule­vard Thurs­day night, killing one of­fi­cer and wound­ing three peo­ple be­fore po­lice shot and killed him. The Is­lamic State group quickly claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack.

French pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates can­celled or resched­uled last­minute cam­paign events ahead of Sun­day’s first round vote in the tense elec­tion. Se­cu­rity al­ready was a dom­i­nant theme in the race, and the vi­o­lence on the sparkling boule­vard threat­ened to weigh on vot­ers’ de­ci­sions.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors were con­duct­ing searches early today in at least one eastern sub­urb of Paris, ac­cord­ing to three po­lice of­fi­cials. Au­thor­i­ties were try­ing to de­ter­mine whether the as­sailant had ac­com­plices, anti-ter­ror­ism prose­cu­tor François Molins told re­porters at the scene.

The at­tacker emerged from a car and used an au­to­matic weapon to shoot at of­fi­cers out­side a Marks & Spencer’s store at the cen­tre of the Champs-Élysées, Molins said. Two po­lice of­fi­cers and a woman tourist were wounded, he said.

The Is­lamic State group’s claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity just a few hours af­ter the at­tack came un­usu­ally swiftly for 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, in­di­cat­ing he was Bel­gian or had lived in Belgium. The group de­scribed it as an at­tack “in the heart of Paris.”

Two po­lice of­fi­cials said the chief sus­pect was a 39-year-old man from a sub­urb east of the French cap­i­tal.

Searches were con­ducted in at least one sub­urb east of Paris af­ter the at­tack.

Po­lice and sol­diers sealed off the area, or­der­ing tourists back into ho­tels and block­ing peo­ple from ap­proach­ing the scene.

The at­tacker had been flagged as an ex­trem­ist, ac­cord­ing to two po­lice of­fi­cials who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Pierre-Henry Bran­det said of­fi­cers were “de­lib­er­ately” tar­geted.

Is­lamic State group-in­spired at­tacks have killed 235 peo­ple in France since Jan­uary 2015, by far the largest ca­su­alty fig­ure of any Western coun­try. France re­mains un­der a state of emer­gency. Se­cu­rity has been es­pe­cially high since Tues­day, when po­lice said they thwarted a ter­ror at­tack by ar­rest­ing two men.

On Thurs­day night, emer­gency ve­hi­cles blocked the wide Champs-Élysées, an av­enue lined with shops and nor­mally packed with cars and tourists that cuts across cen­tral Paris be­tween the Arc de Tri­om­phe and the Tui­leries Gar­dens. Sub­way sta­tions were closed off.

The gun­fire sent scores of tourists flee­ing into side streets.

“They were run­ning, run­ning,” said 55-year-old Badi Ftaiti, who lives in the area. “Some were cry­ing. There were tens, maybe even hundreds of them.”

French Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande said he is con­vinced the cir­cum­stances of the lat­est at­tack pointed to a ter­ror­ist act. Hol­lande held an emer­gency meet­ing with the prime min­is­ter Thurs­day night and planned to con­vene the de­fence coun­cil Fri­day morn­ing.

Speak­ing in Wash­ing­ton, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said the shoot­ing “looks like an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack” and sent con­do­lences to France.

OLIVIER CORSAN, MAXPPP, ZUMA PRESS, TNS

Emer­gency ve­hi­cles block the Champs-Élysées boule­vard in Paris af­ter Thurs­day night’s at­tack.

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