At least three people have been killed and three others wounded when a gunman opened fire at a Kurdish cultural centre in Paris, as President Emmanuel Macron denounced the “heinous” attack targeting France’s Kurds.
Several gunshots were fired on Rue d’Enghien at about midday (11:00 GMT) on Friday, sowing panic on a street lined with small shops and cafes in the French capital’s busy 10th district.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
All three of those who died were Kurdish, a lawyer for the Kurdish cultural centre told the Reuters news agency. Three others were wounded, one of them with life threatening injuries.
Authorities said a 69-year-old former train driver was arrested as a suspect. The Paris prosecutor said the man had recently been released from detention while awaiting trial over an attack on a migrant camp in Paris a year ago, and that investigators were considering a possible racist motive for the shooting.
Key questions for French authorities in the coming days include why the suspect, identified as “William M.” by French media and reportedly born in Paris, was out on parole.
Later on Friday, dozens of protesters took to the streets a short distance from the scene of the shootings. Police fired teargas to drive back an angry crowd as projectiles were thrown at officers, rubbish bins and restaurant tables overturned and cars damaged.
Reporting from Paris, Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler said: “People here feel that that shooting was against them and against their community.”
President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that France’s Kurds were targeted in the attack.
“The Kurds of France have been the target of a heinous attack in the heart of Paris. Our thoughts are with the victims, the people who are struggling to live, their families and loved ones”, Macron said in a tweet.
Mathilde Panot, parliamentary head of the hard-left France Unbowed political party, pointed the finger at the far-right, calling it a “racist attack”.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was more cautious in his wording as he visited the site of the attack. “There is little doubt that [the gunman] was targeting foreigners. We need to know from the judicial inquiry whether it was specifically the Kurds, for the moment there is no evidence to show that,” he told reporters.
The suspect was a member of a shooting sports club “and has several registered weapons”, Darmanin said.
Eyewitness Mehmet Dilek told Reuters he first heard gunshots and then cries from inside a barber’s shop opposite the cultural centre. Bystanders subdued the gunman as he reloaded, he added.
A shopkeeper in the area told AFP she had heard seven or eight shots in Rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement, saying, “It was total panic. We locked ourselves inside.”
The Kurdish community centre, called Centre Ahmet Kaya, is used by a charity that works to integrate the Kurdish population in the Paris region.
ALERTE – Fusillade à Paris : plusieurs blessés dans le 10eme arrondissement.
Police sur place. Un suspect interpelé. pic.twitter.com/mbQFl2a0vf
— Clément Lanot (@ClementLanot) December 23, 2022
Members of the Kurdish community in Paris said they had been recently warned by police of threats to Kurdish targets, and demanded justice after the shooting.
Kurdish leaders also called for better protection for their community, a theme for Kurds in France since the high profile killings of three Kurdish women a decade ago.
“Kurds, wherever they live, should be able to live in peace and security,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Twitter. “Now more than ever, Paris is by their side in these dark times.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned the attack on Twitter. “A terrible act has shaken Paris and France today,” he said. “My thoughts are with the victims and their families.”