A police officer was shot dead and two others were seriously wounded Thursday in the Champs-Elysées area of Paris – and ISIS is claiming its “fighter” carried out the AK-47 ambush just three days before the French presidential election.
The gunman, who was shot dead by police, was known to French security services for radical Islamist activities, CNN reported. Police officers were said to have been “deliberately targeted” by a man armed “with a Kalashnikov,” or AK-47.
“An automatic weapon was used against police, a weapon of war,” French interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters, adding that the “terrorist threat” in France remains high.
The shooting happened just after 9 p.m. Thursday, after a vehicle pulled up next to a police car sitting at a stop light.
“A man immediately got out and opened fire on the police car, fatally wounding a police officer … He also wounded a second one, it would seem very seriously,” Brandet said.
A witness and Paris resident, Badi Ftaiti, told ABC News that crowds of tourists flooded into side streets when the gunfire erupted.
Tourists “were running, running … Some were crying,” he said. “There were tens, maybe even hundreds of them.”
Authorities have not released the gunman’s name. On Friday, police searched the home of Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old with a police record, reported the Associated Press. French President Francois Hollande said he is “convinced” circumstances point to a terrorist attack. It is said to be the sixth terror strike on the French capital in three years.
ISIS claimed the gunman was an Islamic State “fighter” and a Belgian national in a statement published by the terror group’s media wing, Amaq. It gave a pseudonym for the attacker, Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki.
The suspect was the subject of a “Fiche S” surveillance file, according to a CNN source. He was known to the French domestic security service DGSI. Authorities have been searching the gunman’s home in east Paris. The man reportedly said he “wanted to kill police” on the social media app Telegram, according to BFM-TV. The gunman was sentenced to prison for 20 years for trying to kill police in 2001, but he was released five years early, according to the Daily Mail.
The shooter had recently been detained at a police station outside Paris, in Meaux, after “informants” told police he was “seeking to obtain weapons to kill policemen,” the U.K. Telegraph reported. But anti-terror prosecutors didn’t believe they had enough evidence, so they “let him go.”
The U.K. Daily Mail reported, “Police have now launched a desperate manhunt for a second suspect after heavily armed officers flooded the area in the heart of the French capital.”
At a news conference Thursday alongside Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, President Trump said, “Our condolences from our country to the people of France.”
He continued: “Again, it’s happening, it seems. I just saw it as I was walking in, so that’s a terrible thing. And that’s a very, very terrible thing that’s going on in the world today. But it looks like another terrorist attack. And what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong and we have to be vigilant, and I’ve been saying it for a long time.”
The attack happened during a prime-time television debate featuring all 11 presidential candidates.
“Enough of laxism, enough of naivety,” said French lawyer and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. “The fight against terrorism must be the absolute priority of the next French president.”
On March 18, a man with a criminal history and ties to radical Islam shouted: “I am here to die for Allah! There will be deaths!” He was shot dead seconds later at Orly airport.
On Feb. 3, a man attempted to storm the Louvre museum in Paris but was shot five times.
On June 13, two police officers were killed in front of their 8-year-old son at their home outside Paris. ISIS claimed the attack, according to the U.K. Daily Mail.
And on Nov. 13, 2015, ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in suicide bomb and shooting attacks in central Paris and in the suburb of Saint-Denis.
On Jan. 7, 2015, 11 people inside the Paris building of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by two brothers who were outraged because the satirical magazine published cartoons poking fun of the Prophet Muhammad. More people were killed in a subsequent attack on a kosher market in eastern Paris, bringing the total to 17 victims, including two police officers.
The April 20 shooting “comes just two days after the arrest of two men found with a cache of weapons and explosives in Marseilles,” the Daily Mail reported. “They were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the first round of the presidential election on Sunday.”