A gunman wielding an assault rifle on Thursday night killed a police officer on the iconic Champs-Élysées boulevard of Paris, in a terrorist attack whose responsibility has been claimed by the dreaded ISIS.
The gunman was shot dead by the police as he tried to flee on foot; two other police officers and a bystander were wounded. The police quickly blocked access to the crowded thoroughfare, lined with restaurants and high-end stores, as a helicopter hovered overhead.
The attack set off panic and a scramble for shelter, and officers began searching for possible accomplices after the attack.
Near midnight, President François Hollande said in an address to the nation that the attack appeared to be an act of terrorism. The Islamic State claimed responsibility in a message posted on a jihadi channel, and the Paris prosecutor said he had opened a terrorism investigation.
The attack came only days before the start of a presidential vote that could reverberate across Europe, and as the 11 candidates were having their final quasi-debate on the France 2 television network.
François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, said that shortly before 9 p.m., a car pulled up to a police vehicle that was parked in front of a Marks & Spencer store. A gunman jumped out and opened fire on the vehicle, killing an officer. The gunman then tried to flee while firing at other officers but was killed by the police.
A restaurateur near the scene of the shooting, who would give only his first name, Denis, told France 24 television by phone that people had sought refuge in his restaurant.
“They were scared. They didn’t know what to do, or when it would end,” he said. “Some of them were in shock, others were crying.”
France has been on high alert since the terrorist attacks in and around Paris in November 2015, and this presidential election will be the first to be conducted under such conditions. The authorities have been warning for months that despite the lack of any large-scale attacks, the threat has not abated.