PARIS — Officers shot and killed a knife-wielding man wearing a fake explosive vest at a police station in northern Paris on Thursday, French officials said, a year to the day after an attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo launched a bloody year in the French capital.
Luc Poignant, a police union official, said the man cried out “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”
The man was wearing what looked like an explosive vest, but it was fake, according to two French police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. They said the man has not yet been identified.
Police have cleared hundreds of people from the neighbourhood amid fears that other assailants could be at large.
Tensions were high in the Goutte d’Or neighbourhood in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, a multi-ethnic district not far from the Gare du Nord train station.
Police expanded the security cordon about an hour after the attack, swiftly and roughly clearing out hundreds who had gathered at a subway station and along nearby streets.
Shops were ordered shuttered along neighbouring streets.
Just a few minutes earlier, elsewhere in the city, French President Francois Hollande had finished paying homage to police officers killed in the line of duty, including three shot to death in the attacks last January.
Police officers secure the area. AP Photo / Christophe Ena
A Paris police official said police were investigating the incident at the Paris police station Thursday as “more likely terrorism” than a standard criminal act. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be publicly named according to police policy.
The neighborhood in the Goutte d’Or district of northern Paris was locked down after the shooting.
Hollande had said earlier that what he called a “terrorist threat” would continue to weigh on France.
On Jan. 7, 2015, two French-born brothers killed 11 people inside the building where Charlie Hebdo operated, as well as a Muslim policeman outside. Over the next two days, an accomplice shot a policewoman to death and then stormed a kosher supermarket, killing four hostages. All three gunmen died.
In a speech to police forces charged with protecting the country against new attacks, Hollande said the government was passing new laws and ramping up security, but the threat remained high.
Hollande especially called for better surveillance of “radicalized” citizens who have joined Islamic State or other militant groups in Syria and Iraq when they return to France.
“We must be able to force these people -and only these people- to fulfill certain obligations and if necessary to put them under house arrest … because they are dangerous,” he said.
Three police officers were among the 17 dead in the attacks last January, which ended after two days of bloodshed in the Paris region.
Hollande 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 Nov. 13 by extremists in attacks claimed by the Islamic State group that killed 130 people at a concert hall and in bars and restaurants.
Survivors of the January attacks, meanwhile, are continuing to speak out.
Cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau, the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, who is known as Riss, told France Inter radio “security is a new expense for the newspaper budget.”
“This past year we’ve had to invest nearly 2 million euros to secure our office, which is an enormous sum,” he said. “We have to spend hundreds of thousands on surveillance of our offices, which wasn’t previously in Charlie’s budget, but we had an obligation so that employees feel safe and can work safely.”
After the attacks, people around the world embraced the expression “Je suis Charlie” to express solidarity with the slain journalists, targeted for the paper’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
“It’s a phrase that was used during the march as a sign of emotion or resistance to terrorism,” Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Corinne Rey – known as Coco – told France Inter radio. “And little by little, I realized that ‘I am Charlie’ was misused for so many things. And now I don’t really know what it means.”