Gunman who shot dead 3 at Paris Kurdish center transferred to psychiatric facility

Doctor rules custody not an option for 69-year-old suspect, named by media as William M., who has long history of weapons offenses and has told investigators his motive was racist

Supporters and members of the Kurdish community hold portraits of victims Emine Kara and Mir Perwer during a demonstration a day after a gunman opened fire at a Kurdish cultural centre killing three people, at The Place de la Republique in Paris on December 24, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)
Supporters and members of the Kurdish community hold portraits of victims Emine Kara and Mir Perwer during a demonstration a day after a gunman opened fire at a Kurdish cultural centre killing three people, at The Place de la Republique in Paris on December 24, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — A French man suspected of killing three people in an alleged racist attack at a Kurdish cultural center in Paris has been transferred to a psychiatric unit, prosecutors said Saturday, as police and demonstrators clashed in the French capital.

Prosecutors said the 69-year-old suspect had been removed from custody for health reasons on Saturday and taken to a police psychiatric facility.

The shots at the cultural center and a nearby hairdressing salon on Friday sparked panic in the city’s bustling 10th district, home to several shops and restaurants and a large Kurdish population.

Three others were wounded in the attack that the suspect told investigators was attributable to his being “racist,” a source close to the case said.

The Paris prosecutor said a doctor examined the suspect’s health on Saturday afternoon and deemed it “not compatible with the measure of custody.”

The man’s custody was lifted and he was taken to a police psychiatric unit pending an appearance before an investigation judge as the probe continues, the prosecutor added.

The shooting has revived the trauma of three unresolved murders of Kurds in 2013, which many blame on Turkey.

Demonstrators throw stones toward police who fire tear gas to disperse them during a protest against the recent shooting at the Kurdish culture center in Paris, December 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

Many in the Kurdish community have expressed anger at the French security services, saying they had done too little to prevent the shooting.

The frustration boiled over on Saturday and furious demonstrators clashed with police in central Paris for the second day running after a tribute rally.

The capital’s police chief Laurent Nunez told BFM television channel 31 officers and one protester were injured in the disturbances, while 11 people were arrested, “mainly for damage.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Paris prosecutor had extended the suspect’s period of detention for 24 hours and gave an extra charge of acting with a “racist motive.”

He was already being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, armed violence and violating weapons legislation.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said Kurds in France were “the target of an odious attack” and ordered Nunez to meet with leaders of the Kurdish community on Saturday.

A fire brigade ambulance is see behind police tape where a shooting took place in Paris, France, December 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

Racist violence

The suspect, who has a history of racist violence, initially targeted the Kurdish cultural center before entering a hairdressing salon where he was arrested.

He was found with a case loaded with a box of at least 25 cartridges and “two or three loaded magazines,” the source close to the case said.

The weapon was a “much-used” US Army Colt 1911 pistol.

Of the three wounded people, one was being given intensive care in a hospital and two were treated for serious injuries.

According to the Kurdish Democratic Council in France (CDK-F), the dead included one woman and two men.

Emine Kara was a leader of the Kurdish Women’s Movement in France, the organization’s spokesman Agit Polat said. Her claim for political asylum in France had been rejected.

The other victims were Abdulrahman Kizil and Mir Perwer, a political refugee and artist, according to the CDK-F.

A police source confirmed Kara and Kizil were among the victims.

Police tape is used to cordoned off the area following a shooting along rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement, in Paris on December 23, 2022 (Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

‘Pain and disbelief’

Thousands of Kurds gathered at Place de la Republique in central Paris on Saturday afternoon, where they held a minute of silence for the three killed and those “who died for freedom.”

“What we feel is pain and disbelief because this is not the first time this has happened,” 23-year-old student Esra told AFP.

Police fired tear gas after clashes erupted and the demonstrators threw projectiles at officers. AFP journalists at the scene said at least four cars were overturned and one burnt.

Over 1,000 people held a similar peaceful rally in the southern port city of Marseille but it ended in clashes with officers and at least two police cars were set on fire.

Three female Kurdish activists were killed in 2013 in the same area of Paris, and the victims’ families have long pointed the finger at Turkey for masterminding the deaths.

Despite the suspicions, there appears to be no evidence that Friday’s shooting had political motives or was linked to Turkey.

Within hours of the attack, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protestors trying to break through a police cordon deployed to protect Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who had arrived at the scene.

Darmanin had said Friday that while the attacker “was clearly targeting foreigners,” it was “not certain” the man was aiming to kill “Kurds in particular.”

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin gestures as he speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2020. (Charles Platiau/Pool Photo via AP)

‘He is crazy’

The suspect — named as William M. by French media — is a gun enthusiast with a history of weapons offenses who had been released on bail earlier this month.

The retired train driver was convicted of armed violence in 2016 by a court in the multicultural Seine-Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, but appealed.

A year later he was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm.

Last year, he was charged with racist violence after allegedly stabbing migrants and slashing their tents with a sword in a park in eastern Paris.

“He is crazy, he’s an idiot,” his father was quoted as saying by the M6 television channel.

Often described as the world’s largest people without a state, the Kurds are a Muslim ethnic group spread across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

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