PARIS, FRANCE (AFP) — A knife-wielding man working at police headquarters in central Paris went on a rampage Thursday, stabbing and killing four employees before himself being shot dead, officials said.
A fifth person who was critically injured was being treated in hospital after what was the deadliest attack on police in France in years.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said that the attacker, a 45-year-old employee from the IT department in the police intelligence section, had killed three men and a woman before being killed in the courtyard of the square stone building on the Ile de la Cite.
Three of the dead were police officers and the four was an administrative assistant, he told reporters at the scene.
Speaking alongside him, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the attacker had been working for the police since 2003 and had “never shown any behaviour problems”.
The police were “particularly stricken by this exceptionally grave incident”, he said.
The police building was cordoned off after the lunchtime attack in the historic centre of Paris, near Notre-Dame cathedral, and dozens of police and emergency vehicles converged at the scene.
President Emmanuel Macron also visited the police headquarters after the attack. Castener has postponed a planned trip to Greece and Turkey to deal with the incident.
Heitz confirmed that a murder investigation had been launched and that the man’s home was being searched.
“People were running everywhere, there was crying everywhere,” said Emery Siamandi, an interpreter who was in the building when the attack happened.
“I heard a shot, I gathered it was inside,” he told AFP. “Moments later, I saw police officers crying. They were in a panic.”
– High alert –
One source said the employee was handicapped, without confirming reports that he was both deaf and mute.
So far, the country’s anti-terror prosecutors have not been charged with investigating the attack.
Initial reports said investigators believed a workplace dispute could have sparked the incident.
“Did he snap, or was there some other reason? It’s still too early to say,” Loic Travers, head of the Alliance Police union for the Paris region, told BFM television.
The attack comes amid growing tensions within the ranks of the police, who are stretched to the limit after a year of trying to contain weekly “yellow vest” anti-Macron demonstrations.
Thousands of police officers marched in Paris on Wednesday for better working conditions, a rare protest that took place against the backdrop of a spike in suicides within their ranks — 52 so far this year.
France also remains on high alert after a succession of jihadist attacks since 2015, which have included both large synchronised assaults and isolated knife and gun attacks, and left more than 250 people dead.
In January 2015, two men armed with Kalashnikov rifles stormed the Paris offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including two police officers.
On November 15 that year, France was hit by the worst terror attacks in its history when Islamic State jihadists struck the national stadium, Paris cafes, and the Bataclan concert hall in a coordinated assault that left 130 people dead.
And in July 14, 2016 a Tunisian ploughed a truck through a large crowd gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in the Mediterranean city of Nice. The attack killed 86 people and injured more than 400.
© Agence France-Presse