A man carrying a butcher’s knife and wearing a fake explosive vest tried to attack a Paris police station, a year almost to the minute after two Islamic extremists burst in the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and unleashed a bloody 12 months in the French capital.
The attacker was slain by police, and the Paris prosecutor’s anti-terrorism unit opened an investigation after what officials described as an attempted attack on the police station in the city’s north.
Found on the man’s body was a mobile phone, a piece of paper with an emblem of the Islamic State group, and “an unequivocal written claim of responsibility in Arabic”. The prosecutor’s office did not provide details about what the claim meant.
France has been under a state of emergency since a series of attacks claimed by the Islamic State group killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, and tensions increased this week as the anniversary of the January attacks approached. Soldiers were posted in front of schools and security forces were even more present than usual amid a series of tributes to the dead.
Officials said the man shot dead on Thursday threatened officers at the entrance of a police station near the Montmartre neighbourhood, home to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. Just moments before, French President Francois Hollande, speaking in a different location, paid respects to officers fallen in the line of duty.
The man at the police station is believed to have cried out “Allahu akbar”, Arabic for “God is great”. He has not been identified, and Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said that police do not believe anyone else was involved.
Alexis Mukenge, who saw the shooting from inside another building, told the network iTele that police told the man, “Stop. Move back”, adding that officers fired twice and the man immediately dropped to the ground.
The Goutte d’Or neighborhood in Paris’ 18th arrondissement was briefly locked down, and two metro lines running through the area were halted. They reopened after about two hours Thursday.
Two schools were under lockdown, and police cleared out hundreds of people in the area. Shops were ordered closed and shop owners hastily rolled down metal shutters.
Nora Borrias was unable to get to her home in the neighbourhood because of the barricades. Shaken by the incident, she said “it’s like the Charlie Hebdo affair isn’t over”.
Mr Hollande had said earlier that a “terrorist threat” would continue to weigh on France. The government has announced new measures extending police powers to allow officers to use their weapons to “neutralise someone who has just committed one or several murders and is likely to repeat these crimes.”