A knife-wielding assailant has killed at least four employees during an attack at the police headquarters in the centre of the French capital.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said that the attacker, a 45-year-old IT assistant, killed three police officers and an administrative worker before being shot dead by an officer on Thursday. Another person was wounded and is undergoing surgery.
It was not immediately clear what the assailant’s motive was but Jean-Marc Bailleul, a police union leader, described the incident as “criminal” rather than an act of “terror”, the Reuters news agency reported.
Fellow union official Loic Travers said the incident appeared to have begun in an office and continued elsewhere inside the large compound, which is located near the Notre Dame Cathedral and several other major tourist attractions. It happened at about 1pm (12:00 GMT).
The surrounding area was cordoned off in the wake of the attack and the local metro station was shut down.
Speaking outside the police headquarters, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the attacker was known to his colleagues and had worked for some time in the IT department.
“He had never presented any behavioural issues, he had never presented the slightest cause for alarm before going on his deadly rampage today,” Castaner said.
Heitz said police were searching the attacker’s home, and the Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed the individual’s wife had been brought into police custody but not charged.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe meanwhile visited the site of the attack, while Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo wrote in a post on Twitter that the city “weeps for its own this afternoon”.
Interpreter Emery Siamandi, who was inside the building when the attack took place, told journalists he heard gunshots and witnessed the wave of panic that spread through the police headquarters with people screaming and crying, the Associated Press news agency reported.
“I tried to see if it was a terrorist attack or maybe several people had walked in to kill people,” the AP quoted Siamandi as saying after he was evacuated.
“I was suspicious and very soon I saw policemen with their guns drawn – they had guns. Where I was, 99 percent of people were policemen.”
Thursday’s attack came a day after thousands of officers marched in Paris to protest low wages, long-hours culture and increasing suicides in their ranks.
Organisers estimated that 27,000 officers out of 150,000 police staff nationwide took part, the AFP news agency reported. No independent estimate was available.
Police officers have also been the target of several other deadly attacks in recent years.
In 2017, a gunman opened fire on the Champs-Elysees boulevard, killing one officer before he was shot dead.