By James McAuley and William Branigin,
PARIS — A gunman opened fire on French police Thursday on a renowned Paris boulevard, killing one and wounding two others before being fatally shot himself in an incident that shook France just three days before a crucial election.
The French Interior Ministry, confirming the shooting, said two police officers were “seriously wounded” and that security forces gunned down the attacker. The ministry said the person fired on a police car.
French news media, citing the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq news agency, reported that the terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was carried out by a Belgian national identified only as Abu Yusuf. It was not immediately possible to confirm that the Islamic State was behind the shooting.
A spokeswoman for the Paris police, Johanna Primevert, said the gunman attacked police guarding an area near the Franklin Roosevelt metro station Thursday night at the center of the heavily traveled Champs-Elysees avenue, the Associated Press reported.
She said the attacker appeared to act alone, but other officials said it was too soon to say whether he might have had an accomplice.
The Reuters news agency reported that police issued an arrest warrant for a second suspect who they said had arrived in France by train from Belgium.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told France’s BFM television that the gunman got out of a car that pulled up beside a police vehicle and opened fire on the police officers. The attacker then took off running and was shot to death, Brandet said.
“It’s too early to say what’s behind this, but clearly police were the target,” he said. “We don’t know yet what his motivations were.”
In any case, French police said they have opened a terrorism investigation in connection with the attack.
In Washington, President Trump said during a news conference with the visiting Italian prime minister that the Paris shooting “looks like another terrorist attack,” and he offered s condolences to France.
The incident occurred three days before France holds the first round of a presidential election. The country has been hit by a deadly wave of terrorist violence in the last two years that has claimed the lives of at least 230 people, with hundreds more injured.
The shooting — on the most famous boulevard in the French capital, always crowded with tourists and commuters — sent pedestrians fleeing into side streets, witnesses said. Police blocked people from approaching the scene and ordered tourists back into their hotels as they sealed off the area.
The attack came just two days after authorities arrested two men in the southern city of Marseille on suspicion of plotting what Paris prosecutors described as an “imminent” and “violent” assault. Police discovered an Islamic State flag and three kilograms of explosives in one of the men’s homes.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in France, including a coordinated November 2015 terrorist assault on multiple targets in Paris that left 130 people dead and more than 360 wounded.
After that attack and others in the last two years — many perpetrated by Islamic State militants or those claiming to be inspired by the extremist group — terrorism and national security remain crucial issues in the most contentious election France has seen in decades.
The leader of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, has campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant platform and what she has couched as the need to defend France from “Islamist globalization.” In the final days of the campaign, she said she would halt immigration altogether if elected president.
The shooting occurred in the middle of a televised campaign event, when each of the 11 current candidates was given 15 minutes to sell voters on their respective platforms.
The Paris police department promptly shut down the boulevard and advised pedestrians and commuters to avoid the Champs-Elysees, citing an ongoing operation.
At least three metro stations were closed, the Interior Ministry said.
There was no immediate information on the identities of the attacker or the policemen who were shot.
Reuters said police sources had reported earlier that the shooting could have stemmed from an attempted armed robbery.
According to Christophe Crépin, a spokesman for the UNSA Police Union, the gunman opened fire on the police with an AK-47 assault rifle, targeting officers who were near a Marks and Spencer store on the corner of the busy avenue. Crépin said one man carried out the attack but that others could have been involved.
Branigin reported from Washington.
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