A knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu akbar” attacked French soldiers on patrol near the Louvre Museum Friday in what officials described as a suspected terror attack. The soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker and then opened fire, shooting him five times.
The attack at an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the museum sowed panic and again highlighted the threat French officials say hangs over the country, which was hit repeatedly by extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016.
A police union official said the attacker was carrying two backpacks and had two machetes. He said the man lunged at the soldiers when they told him that he could not bring his bags into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall underneath the world-famous museum where the “Mona Lisa” hangs.
That’s when he got the knife out and that’s when he tried to stab the soldier,” said the official, Yves Lefebvre.
The four soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker before opening fire, said Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the military force that patrols Paris and its major tourist attractions.
The French interior ministry said anti-terrorism prosecutors are investigating. There were no immediate details about the identity of the attacker. “Allahu akbar” is the Arabic phrase for “God is great.”
The patrols – numbering about 3,500 soldiers in the Paris area – were instituted following the January 2015 attacks on Paris’ satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and reinforced after Nov. 13 suicide bomb and gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city’s Bataclan concert hall and other sites.
The attacker slightly injured one of the soldiers, in the scalp, officials said. Another soldier opened fire, gravely wounding the attacker.
“He is wounded in the stomach,” said police chief Michel Cadot. “He is conscious and he was moving.”
Checks of the man’s two backpacks found they didn’t contain any explosives, he said.
Cadot said a second person who was “acting suspiciously” also was arrested but appears not to have been linked to the attack.
Restaurant worker Sanae Hadraoui, 32, was waiting for breakfast at the Louvre’s restaurant complex when she heard the first gunshot, followed by another and then a couple more.
“I hear a shot. Then a second shot. Then maybe two more. I hear people screaming, “Evacuate! Evacuate!”
“They told us to evacuate. I told my colleagues at the McDonalds. We went downstairs and then took the emergency exit.”
Hadraoui, who has worked at the Louvre for seven years, said the evacuation was orderly. She was smoking a cigarette when her managers told her people were going back inside.
The museum in the center of Paris is one of the French capital’s biggest tourist attractions. Police sealed off entrances around where the attack took place and closed the area to vehicles, snarling traffic in a busy part of central Paris. Officers shooed away confused tourists.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said about 1,000 people were inside the actual museum and were held inside in safe areas before the all-clear was given and they were allowed to move around as normal again.
Exterminator Olivier Majewski says he was just leaving his scooter in the parking lot beneath the Louvre when he saw a crush of people running and screaming “there’s been a terror attack.” The 53-year-old says he hid for about 15 minutes before gingerly making his way upstairs.
“They were panicked,” he said.