French soldier shoots and wounds machete-wielding attacker at Paris Louvre
A French soldier patrolling at the Louvre museum Friday shot and seriously injured a machete-wielding man who yelled “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) as he attacked security forces, police said.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the attack, less than 80 days before presidential elections, was “terrorist in nature”.
The man rushed at police and soldiers before being shot near the museum’s shopping mall, police said, adding a second person had also been detained after acting suspiciously.
The attacker was alive but seriously wounded, the head of Paris police Michel Cadot told reporters at the scene, adding the bags he had been carrying contained no explosives.
“The soldier fired five bullets,” Cadot said, describing how the man hurried threateningly towards the soldiers at around 10am.
“It was an attack by a person ... who represented a direct threat and whose actions suggested a terrorist context.”
The soldier who fired the bullets was from one of the patrolling groups that have become a common sight around the capital since a state of emergency was declared across France in November 2015. An anti-terrorism inquiry has been opened, the public prosecutor said in a statement.
Another soldier was slightly wounded in the incident.
Two backpacks carried by the assailant were checked by bomb disposal specialists at the scene and were found not to contain explosives.
The identity and nationality of the attacker remains unknown for now, French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said. Interior Minister Bruno le Roux abandoned a trip to the Dordogne region to return to Paris.
The country is less than three months away from a presidential election in which security and fears of terrorism are among the key issues.
— Sébastien Baer (@seb_baer) February 3, 2017
Paris was also planning to submit its official bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games on Friday with a launch show at the Eiffel Tower.
Police cordoned off and evacuated the area around the museum for a time on Friday but began to allow traffic to pass less than two hours after the incident. Louvre officials closed the museum and kept visitors inside for a time before beginning to let them leave.
“It’s so sad and shocking... we can’t let them win, it’s horrible,” British tourist Gillian Simms, who was visiting Paris with her daughters, said.
Visitors to the Louvre learned by loudspeaker announcement of Friday’s attempted attack on the Paris museum and there was no panic, witnesses said, though some children cried as guards directed people to sit tight together and away from windows. About 1,250 visitors were kept inside for a time after the attempted attack, authorities said.
The huge former royal palace in the heart of the city is home to the Mona Lisa and other renowned works of art but also a shopping area and numerous exhibition spaces.
“There were announcements, then the security guards started running all over the place and after a short period they started gathering everybody up and getting them to one side of the building,” said Lance Manus, 73, from Albany, New York.
“They pulled the shades, they didn’t want anybody to sit by the windows,” said Manus, in Paris with his wife Wendy to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. “I guess they were concerned that something would be coming from outside.”
People were calm, but some young children were crying, they said.
“The very young children, the teachers kept them busy playing games,” said Wendy Manus. “They were singing and trying to keep the children calm and quiet.” After an hour, they were told to evacuate.
More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State.
Soldiers in uniform carrying automatic rifles can be regularly seen walking in the area around the Louvre, which is one of the main tourist attractions in Paris, drawing millions of visitors every year.
The museum was already suffering from a fall in visitor numbers after recent attacks in France.
Last year, visitor numbers slumped 15 per cent from 2015 to around 7.3 million.
Over the last two years, numbers are down about two million, casting doubt on the Louvre’s claim to be the most visited museum in the world.
France has suffered a string of attacks, beginning in January 2015 when jihadist gunmen killed cartoonists and journalists at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper in Paris in revenge for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Another attacker went on to kill shoppers in a Jewish supermarket, killing a total of 17 people in three days of bloodshed.
Ten months later, gunmen and suicide bombers from the Islamic State jihadist group attacked bars, restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium in Paris on November 13, 2015, killing 130 people.
Last July, a Tunisian extremist rammed a lorry through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice on France’s south coast, crushing 86 people to death.
And in November, French police broke up an alleged jihadist terror ring which was allegedly planning to attack Paris.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters