Islamic State claims Paris shooting, one policeman killed


Reuters

UPDATE 6-Islamic State claims Paris shooting, one policeman killed


* Islamic State claims attack, names attacker
    * Counter-terrorism inquiry opened
    * Police operation ongoing, searching for possible 2nd
assailant

 (Adds arrest warrant, prosecutor, interior minister)
    By Julien Pretot and Emmanuel JarryPARIS, April 20 (Reuters) - A French policeman was shot dead
and two others were wounded in central Paris on Thursday night
in an attack carried out days before presidential elections and
quickly claimed by the Islamic State militant group.
    President Francois Hollande said he was convinced the
"cowardly killing" on the Champs Elysees boulevard, in which the
assailant was himself shot dead by police, was an act of
terrorism.
    The wide avenue that leads away from the Arc de Triomphe had
been crowded with Parisians and tourists enjoying a spring
evening, but police quickly cleared the area, which remained
empty well into the night of all but heavily armed security
forces and police vehicles.
    Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the man had been
identified, but investigators were still assessing if he had
accomplices.
    A police arrest warrant issued earlier on Thursday, which
was seen by Reuters after the attack, warned of a dangerous
individual who had come into France by train from Belgium on
Thursday. It was unclear if that man was the attacker or linked
to the shooting.
    Officers searched the home of the dead attacker in a town
east of Paris, a police source said.
    "The sense of duty of our policemen tonight averted a
massacre ... they prevented a bloodbath on the Champs Elysees,"
Interior Minister Matthias Fekl told reporters.
    "A little after 9 PM a vehicle stopped alongside a police
car which was parked. Immediately a man got out and fired on the
police vehicle, mortally wounding a police officer," Interior
Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.
    France has lived under a state of emergency since 2015 and
has suffered a spate of Islamist militant attacks mostly
perpetrated by young men who grew up in France and Belgium and
that have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.
     Witness Chelloug, a kitchen assistant, told Reuters he was
walking out of a shop and saw a man get out of a car and open
fire with a rifle on a policeman.
   "The policeman fell down. I heard six shots, I was afraid. I
have a two year-old girl and I thought I was going to die... He
shot straight at the police officer."
    The Islamic State group, which is being driven out of its
areas of territorial control in Iraq and Syria by Western-backed
coalitions and has hundreds of French-speaking fighters, claimed
responsibility for Thursday's shooting via its Amaq news agency,
naming the attacker as Abu Yousif al-Belgiki.
    The claim came quickly and the naming of the assailant
suggested a degree of direct contact with Islamic State. The
group also claimed responsibility for a car attack in London
last month killing four, but gave no name or details.
    Police sources said the man was known to intelligence
services. French television networks reported that he was a
39-year-old French national known for previous violent crimes.

    POLICE CLEAR THE AREA
    Police authorities called on the public to avoid the area.
    The Arc de Triomphe monument and the top half of the Champs
Elysees were packed with police vans, lights flashing and
heavily armed police shutting the area down after what was
described by one journalist as a major exchange of fire.
    The incident came as French voters prepared go to the polls
on Sunday in the most tightly-contested presidential election in
decades.
    "We shall be of the utmost vigilance, especially in relation
to the election," said President Hollande, who is not himself
running for re-election.
    Earlier this week, two men were arrested in Marseille who
police said had been planning an attack ahead of the election.
    A machine gun, two hand guns and three kilos of TATP
explosive were among the weapons found at a flat in the southern
city along with Islamic State propaganda materials, according to
Molins.
    That incident brought issues of security and immigration
back to the forefront of the campaign, with the anti-immigration
National Front leader Marine Le Pen repeating her call for
Europe's partly open borders to be closed.
    On Thursday, speaking after a television appearance, she
said she was "deeply angry" as well as sad for the police
victims "because not everything is done ... to protect our
compatriots. They need more than our compassion."
    Candidates in the election said they had been warned about
the Marseille attackers. Francois Fillon, who is the
conservative candidate, said he would cancel the campaign events
he had been planning for Friday.
    He also called for campaigning generally to be suspended,
although from midnight on Friday the law says it has to stop
anyway. Far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon said campaigning
should continue.
   In November, 2015, Paris was rocked by near simultaneous
gun-and-bomb attacks on entertainment sites, in which 130 people
died and 368 were wounded. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Two of the 10 known perpetrators were Belgian citizens and three
others were French.

 (Additional reporting by JRichard Balmforth, Sophie Louet,
Leigh Thomas, John Irish, Michel Rose, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Ingrid
Melander, Julie Carriat and Muhammad Yamany in Cairo; Writing by
Andrew Callus and John Irish; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Toni
Reinhold)
 ((ingrid.melander@thomsonreuters.com; +33149495518; Reuters
Messaging: ingrid.melander.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: FRANCE SHOOTING/ (UPDATE 6, PIX, TV)



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