A policeman was shot dead while two others were seriously injured by a Kalashnikov-wielding gunman on the Champs Elysees in central Paris – just three days before the French presidential election.
The alleged ISIS gunman, identified as 39-year-old Karim C, pulled up in a car and opened fire on a police bus after it had stopped at a red light on the world famous avenue.
French police said the attack was probably a ‘terrorist act’ and dramatic video footage captured the moment police shot dead the assailant – who was known to security services – and had been flagged as an ‘extremist’.
Officers have been searching the home of the alleged shooter in east Paris and the man had previously said that he ‘wanted to kill police’, according to BFM TV.
The fatal incident unfolded as presidential candidates, including National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, debated on a TV show nearby before Sunday’s election.
French newspaper Le Parisien named the attacker as Karim C, a man who was jailed for 20 years after trying to kill police officers in 2001.
He used the alias ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’ and reportedly made threats to kill police using the social media app Telegram, an instant messaging service.
Karim was born in France and lived in Chelles, a commuter town close to Paris and was jailed for the 2001 attack – but is believed to have been released in 2016.
The gunman who carried out the attack has been identified by police but they will not reveal his name until investigators determine whether he had accomplices, according to the Paris prosecutor.
Francois Molins said: ‘The identity of the attacker is known and has been checked. I will not give it because investigations with raids are ongoing.
‘The investigators want to be sure whether he had or did not have accomplices.’
The Interior Ministry spokesman said the officers were deliberately targeted and the police union added that the policeman was killed while sat in a car at a red light.
US President Donald Trump said: ‘It looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It never ends.’
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and dramatic video footage showed the immediate aftermath of the incident which left one policeman dead.
In the video, posted on Twitter, several figures can be seen moving around next to a police van on the Champs Elysees.
One of the figures then appeared to fall to the ground and a silver car – believed to have been used by the suspects – can be seen parked next to the van.
Police have issued an arrest warrant for a second suspect – a man understood to have arrived in France by train from Belgium.
French President Francois Hollande said the attack was ‘terrorist related’ and scheduled an emergency meeting following the shootings on Thursday evening. French prosecutors have opened a terrorism investigation.
Mr Hollande said a national tribute will be paid to the policeman and added that a ‘passerby was hit’ before the ‘assailant was neutralised’.
Presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon announced that they have both cancelled their campaigning on Friday.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry, confirmed that one police officer was dead and two were seriously wounded following the ‘targeted attack’.
He said a ‘car pulled up just after 9pm’ next to a police patrol car which was parked up on the busy avenue.
A man jumped out with a Kalashnikov and started firing indiscriminately into the police vehicle and hit the unidentified officer who died.
The assailant then ran off, pursued by other officers. Two of them were wounded as they killed him.
Mr Brandet said ‘all lines of investigation were being pursued’, while intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for ‘State-security’.
This means he would have been under surveillance, because he was a known risk to the country.
An eyewitness, called Chelloug, said: ‘It was a terrorist. He came out with a Kalashnikov and started shooting, but he could’ve shot us on the pavement and killed more people with a spray of shots – but he targetted the policemen and fortunately there were the policemen who killed him.’
Another witness said: ‘I saw someone shoot at the police officers. They returned fire, they killed him, he fell on the floor. And then the emergency services came.
‘It took place by Zara and there was a CRS (Republican Security Companies) van parked up and the man shot the police officers. He took out a weapon and shot them.
‘I think the police officer was killed on the spot and his colleagues fired back and killed the individual.’
The attack comes just three days before the first round of balloting in France’s tense presidential election.
A witness, identified only as Ines, told BFM that she heard a shooting, saw a man’s body on the ground and the area was quickly evacuated by police.
It comes just two days after police arrested two men in southern Marseille with weapons and explosives who were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the first-round of the presidential election on Sunday.
France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of alert since a string of terror attacks that began in 2015, which have killed over 230 people.
Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs Elysees or other potential targets like government buildings and religious sites.
Up until now, polls showed voters more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this would change in the event of further bloodshed.
For weeks, centrist former banker Macron and National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen have been out in front but opinion polls now show there is a chance that any of the four leading candidates could reach the second-round runoff on May 7.
Scandal-plagued conservative Francois Fillon and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon have closed the gap substantially in the last two weeks.
The UK Foreign Office said: ‘The British Embassy is in contact with local authorities and urgently seeking further information following reports of a shooting incident on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
‘You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local security authorities and/or your tour operator.
‘If you’re in the area and it is safe to do so, contact your friends and family to tell them you are safe.’
The incident on Thursday comes as France remains in a state of emergency following the Paris attacks in 2015 and the Bastille Day killings in Nice in 2016.
The shooting comes just hours after one of the busiest roads in Paris was closed off by police as officers dealt with a ‘suspicious package’.
Reports suggested that items were discovered by officers as Rue de Rivoli remained shut. Stunned witnesses described seeing a large police presence on the two-mile-long road.
Rue de Rivoli is a busy commercial street just north of the River Seine which is home to some of the most fashionable shops in the world.