France has launched an anti-terror investigation after a policeman was killed and two other officers injured in an apparent Islamist attack in Paris on Thursday that threatens to disrupt the country’s presidential election.
French authorities said the suspected gunman had been shot dead in the assault on the Champs-Élysées shortly before 9pm local time. One civilian was also injured in the attack.
“We are convinced that the leads in the investigation are terror-related,” President François Hollande said late on Thursday.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, the interior ministry spokesman, said: “We are facing a particularly high terror threat.” He added that authorities were seeking to determine whether the gunman had assistance from “one or more” other people.
BFM TV reported that identification found on the body of the assailant belonged to a person known to the police, a 39-year-old from Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris. According to French media, the attacker served several years in prison for firing on police officers with a gun in the early 2000s.
Paris prosecutor François Molins said shortly after the shootings that “the attacker’s identity is known and has been verified”.
“I won’t reveal it, because investigations and raids are already under way, in particular to establish whether there is any evidence or not of complicity [in this attack],” he said, adding that more information would be released on Friday.
Isis claimed responsibility for the attack through its media agency Amaq, saying the attacker was Abu-Yusuf al-Baljikia, a “fighter” known as “the Belgian”. The group offered no evidence for the claim and it was not confirmed by the French authorities.
Images showed the Champs-Élysées cordoned off and flooded with police vehicles.
Just after 10pm, the interior ministry said the police operation was over. The ministry spokesman said a car had pulled up alongside a police bus just before 21:00 (19:00 GMT) and a man got out, opening fire on the bus with an automatic weapon.
After killing an officer, the man attempted to run away while shooting at other officers, two of whom he injured, the spokesman added. He was then shot dead by security forces.
Mr Hollande immediately convened an emergency meeting with the prime minister and interior minister.
The incident came three days before the first round of the presidential election and amid a heightened terrorism alert.
French police found 3kg of home-made explosives and an Isis flag in the home of a man arrested in Marseille on Tuesday for planning a terrorist attack.
The Associated Press reported that police early on Friday had raided a home in an eastern suburb of the French capital believed to be linked to the Champs-Élysées shooting.
The Islamist terrorist threat has become a central element of the presidential campaign. An election broadcast of interviews with the presidential candidates was interrupted to announce news of the attack but was then resumed.
François Fillon, the centre-right candidate, said the shooting was “an act resembling a terror attack”, while far-left contender Jean-Luc Mélenchon said “criminals in France will always be punished”.
Mr Fillon and Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate, announced that they had cancelled their campaign appearances for Friday. The first round of voting is on Sunday.
Donald Trump, the US president, speaking after a meeting with the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, in Washington, sent his condolences to the French people.
“It’s a very, very terrible thing that’s going on in the world today,” he said. “It looks like another terrorist attack and what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong and we have to be vigilant.”
The terrorist assault threatens to disrupt a tense election campaign. France has been under a state of emergency for two years in the face of a string of attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris and elsewhere that have left more than 230 people dead. Ms Le Pen has sought to tap into this heightened security threat to present her plans to slash the level of migration into France as a way of keeping out terrorists.
The far-right leader is expected to take about 22 per cent of the vote in the first round of the election on Sunday, with the centrist Emmanuel Macron on 25 per cent, according to Harris Interactive polling results released on Thursday. Conservative Mr Fillon and leftwinger Mr Mélenchon are set to take 19 per cent each.
“I am angry because not everything is done to protect the French,” Ms Le Pen said on French television. “I don’t want France to get used to Islamist terror.”
Mr Macron said: “I want to protect you, I am ready.”
Cancelling his public appearances on Friday, Mr Fillon said: “The fight against terror should be the president’s absolute priority.”