The Islamic State terror group said it was behind the shooting attack that killed a policeman and seriously injured two others on Thursday in Paris’s Champs-Elysees shopping district. The attacker was killed at the scene.
In a statement by the jihadists’ propaganda agency Amaq, the group gave a pseudonym for the shooter indicating he was Belgian.
“The perpetrator of the attack in Champs-Elysees in central Paris is Abu Yussef the Belgian and he is one of the Islamic State’s fighters,” it said.
The claim of responsibility came unusually swiftly for the terror group, which has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria.
The assailant, according to anonymous police sources, was a known terror suspect, having been flagged as an extremist.
French President Francois Hollande said the attack was “of a terrorist nature.” He promised “absolute vigilance” in the next two days ahead of presidential elections on Sunday and paid tribute to the policeman killed in the shooting as well as those injured.
French prosecutors have opened a terrorism investigation into the attack.
Paris police spokeswoman Johanna Primevert told The Associated Press that the attacker targeted police guarding the area, near the Franklin Roosevelt subway station at the center of the avenue popular with tourists.
French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said on BFM television that a man emerged from a car and opened fire on a police vehicle. A French government spokesman said the assailant was armed with an automatic firearm akin to a “war weapon.”
Reuters quoted a police source who said there were two assailants. The second attacker escaped, reports said, but Brandet said it was too early to say whether the attacker had an accomplice.
French presidential election candidates Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon cancelled their campaign events scheduled for Friday in what would have been the last day of campaigning for candidates before the first round of voting in the presidential elections on Sunday.
Following the attack, police and soldiers sealed off the area around the Champs-Elysees, ordering tourists back into their hotels and blocking people from approaching the scene.
Emergency vehicles blocked the wide avenue, which cuts across central Paris between the Arc de Triomphe and the Tuileries Gardens, normally packed with cars and tourists, and subway stations in the area were closed off.
US President Donald Trump was quick to react to the incident, saying it appeared to be “another terrorist attack.”
“Our condolences from our country to the people of France,” Trump said during a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. “It is a very, very terrible thing that’s going on in the world today, but it looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong and we have to be vigilant and I have been saying it for a long time.”
A Paris resident said the gunfire sent scores of tourists fleeing into side streets. Badi Ftaiti, a Tunisian-born mason who has spent three decades in Paris, said the attack didn’t panic him.
But the 55-year-old said visitors to the city “were running, running… Some were crying. There were tens, maybe even hundreds of them.”
The incident came just two days after police arrested two men in southern Marseille with weapons and explosives who were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the first round of the election in three days.
France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of alert since a string of terror attacks that began in 2015, which have killed over 230 people. The majority of those attacks had been claimed by the Islamic State.
Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hot spots such as the Champs-Elysees and other potential targets like government buildings and religious sites.