The suspect in a gun attack on the Champs-Élysées that left a policeman dead was long known to the police but had shown "no sign" of radicalisation, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said on Friday.
"Investigations will now focus on determining [whether he had] the benefit of possible accomplices," Molins told the press conference.
He added that the suspect, 39-year-old Karim C., had not been on France's official Fiche S watch list of those being monitored by security services.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Antoine Mariotti noted that the number of people listed on the Fiche S had tripled in the past two years as France has boosted security after a series of terror attacks.
The shooter opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police van on the famous Champs-Élysées avenue at around 9pm Paris time on Thursday. After killing a police officer and injuring his two colleagues just a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe, the gunman was shot dead while trying to flee on foot, according to the police.
A note found near the suspect's body had handwritten messages expressing support for the Islamic State group, Molins said. A statement published by its propaganda agency Amaq also said the attacker was "one of the Islamic State's fighters".
Soon after, police launched a raid on the suspect's home in a middle-class neighbourhood in a suburb east of Paris.
Karim C. had previously served nearly 14 years in prison on three counts of attempted murder, including of police officers, as well as for lesser offences.
FRANCE 24's Mariotti said that the suspect's long criminal history highlights some of the issues being faced by France's police.
"Police unions say there is a problem because the assailant was convicted several times – saying he wanted to attack the police – but was released anyway," he explained.
The bustling Champs-Élysées – which lies in the heart of Paris and is lined with shops, theatres and restaurants – was immediately blocked off after the attack and nearby metro stations were closed.
"We had to hide our customers in the basement," Choukri Chouanine, manager of a restaurant near the site of the shooting, told AFP, saying there was "lots of gunfire".
A spokesman for the interior ministry paid tribute to the fast reaction times of the police at the scene who managed to kill the gunman and prevent further bloodshed on a busy spring evening in the capital city.
A foreign tourist was slightly wounded in the knee by shrapnel during the shooting.
France remains in a state of emergency and at its highest terror alert level after a series of terrorist attacks. Gunmen killed 17 in shootings at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Kosher supermarket in January 2015. Several bars and restaurants in Paris, including the Bataclan concert hall, were targeted in attacks that left 130 dead on November 13 of that same year. A truck rammed through a festive crowd gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice in July 2016, leaving more than 80 people dead.
In between there have been a series of smaller attacks, often aimed at the security forces. In February, a man armed with a machete in each hand attacked soldiers on patrol at Paris's Louvre Museum. In March, a 39-year-old man was killed at Paris's Orly airport after attacking a soldier.
Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs-Élysées or other potential targets, including government buildings and religious sites.
The shooting comes two days after the arrest of two men in the southern city of Marseille with weapons and explosives who were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the campaign.
Furthermore, it also comes just three days before France votes in the first round of the presidential elections on Sunday, following a campaign season in which immigration and security have been key issues.
In response to the attack, French President François Hollande promised "absolute vigilance, particularly with regard to the electoral process" and paid tribute to the rapid police response.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-04-21