Wednesday 22 November 2017

Knifeman shot dead as Paris marks 'Charlie' anniversary

French President Francois Hollande visits the HQ of the French anti-terror security forces. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande visits the HQ of the French anti-terror security forces. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande. Photo: AP
Armed French police patrol near the Boulevard de Barbes in the north of the city. Photo: Getty

Henry Samuel

Police in Paris shot dead a man wielding a meat cleaver and a fake suicide vest while shouting 'Allahu Akbar' outside a police station, a year after Islamists killed 12 at the 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine offices.

The assailant - described as "threatening" by police sources - was gunned down as he tried to force his way into the police station of Paris's 18th arrondissement.

He was found to be wearing a pouch taped to his coat with wires dangling from it. However, it later proved to be a "fake" suicide belt.

The dead man was carrying a mobile phone and a note with the black Isil flag on it and an "unambiguous statement" in Arabic, according to the Paris prosecutor's office.

Police ordered passers-by to take shelter in shops in the road and stores were closed.

Children were confined to the nearby school, while bomb disposal experts and dogs combed the street to search for booby-trapped vehicles. Stretches of nearby Paris metro lines were also briefly closed.

"I heard something like four shots," said Lydie Quentin, president of local neighbourhood association 'A la Goutte-d'Or', situated near the police station.

"I opened the door and the police asked me not to come out. That's the only thing they asked us to do. Around here, all the shops have closed," she told 'Le Monde'.

The dead suspect reportedly had "no papers on him" but is believed to be a homeless man originally from Morocco.

The shooting came as a Paris court sentenced in absentia a key French member of Isil with ties to the 'Charlie Hebdo' attackers to 15 years in prison.

French authorities said Salim Benghalem (35) was the leader of the so-called Buttes-Chaumont terrorist network that included Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers responsible for the 'Charlie Hebdo' attack last January.

He was also linked to Mehdi Nemmouche, who was suspected of opening fire at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, killing four people, in May 2014.

Six other Isil fighters were given sentences of between six and nine years.

The apparent foiled attack took place just as President François Hollande was paying tribute, elsewhere in Paris, to three police officers among the 17 dead in the attacks last January, which ended after two days of bloodshed around Paris.

Mr Hollande (pictured below) said officers die in the line of duty "so that we can live free".

Following the January attacks, the government announced it planned to give police better equipment and hire more intelligence agents.

France has been on high alert ever since, and was struck again on November 13 by extremists in attacks claimed by Isil that killed 130 people at the Bataclan concert hall and in bars and restaurants.

Since then, it has been in a state of emergency, meaning authorities have sweeping powers to search houses and vehicles and arrest suspects.

In a New Year's address to France's security forces at Paris's police headquarters, Mr Hollande told them that any attack on a policeman, gendarme or fireman was not just a crime but "an attack on the Republic".

Describing 2015 as a "terrible" and "tragic" year, he told forces that he would present next month a bill extending their powers to "respond to the challenges we face", including the rules of armed engagement with terrorists.

The incident yesterday came a little over a year after Bertrand Nzohabonayo, a 20-year old jihadist, injured three officers in a police station in Joue-les-Tours, in Indre-et-Loire, while shouting "Allahu Akbar", and was shot dead.

French security forces have been on high alert since the November killings amid fears of fresh attacks.

In December, Paris police said officers opened fire on a car that rammed the entry to France's Les Invalides monument, stopping the vehicle, before arresting the driver.

On January 1, soldiers guarding a mosque in Valence, southern France, opened fire on another motorist who tried to ram them, seriously injuring the Tunisian-born assailant.

For years, al-Qa'ida and Isil have urged recruits to attack France and its allies, providing a list of targets - usually police and military officers, followed by politicians and symbolic places of power.

Isil has also told supporters to attack "secular" state schools.

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