The Islamic State militant group has claimed the responsibility of the deadly shooting attack in central Paris that left a French policeman dead and two others grievously injured. The fatal attack on Thursday night was carried out days before presidential elections, which will be held on April 23. President Francois Hollande described the “cowardly killing” on the Champs Elysees boulevard as an act of terrorism, in which the assailant was shot dead by police.
The crowded Arc de Triomphe was immediately cleared by police. The area surrounding the iconic monument saw the deployment of heavily armed security forces and police vehicles throughout the night. According to Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, the assailant had been identified, but added that investigators were still assessing if he had accomplices.
A police arrest warrant had been issued earlier on Thursday, warning that a dangerous individual had entered France via a train from Belgium. However, it is yet to be ascertained whether the man was linked to the shooting.
“The sense of duty of our policemen tonight averted a massacre … they prevented a bloodbath on the Champs Elysees,” Interior Minister Matthias Fekl told reporters. Reflecting on the incident, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said, “A little after 9 PM a vehicle stopped alongside a police car which was parked. Immediately a man got out and fired on the police vehicle, mortally wounding a police officer.”
The country has witnessed a series of Islamic militant attacks perpetrated mostly by young men, killing more than 230 people in the span of two years.
In the wake of the shooting, security concerns took centre stage in the last days of the country’s presidential race, which is expected to be a tightly contested election as the gap between four frontrunners continues to narrow. The two candidates who secure the maximum number of votes will then face off against each other in a run-off election on May 7.
With inputs from Reuters