Paris shooting: Three killed after gunman opens fire at Kurdish centre

The suspect, a retired train driver 'was clearly targeting foreigners'

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A gunman who opened fire at a Kurdish cultural centre in central Paris killed three people and wounded several others on Friday.

The attack shortly before noon caused panic in the 10th district of the French capital, an area of shops and restaurants that is home to a large Kurdish population.

The man, a 69-year-old retired train driver, “was clearly targeting foreigners”, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said, adding however that it was “not certain” that the man was aiming to kill “Kurds in particular”.

One person was in a critical condition and two others are in hospital with less serious injuries.

The attacker, who was recently released from prison, was wounded in the face, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said.

Authorities were investigating racism as a motive for the attack, she said. An investigation has been opened into murder, homicide and aggravated violence.

Protests began in the surrounding streets hours later, with police firing tear gas in response.

The arrested man was suspected of attacking at least two migrants with a knife in a Paris camp on December 8, last year, Ms Beccuau said.

She said the question of whether Friday's attack was motivated by racism “will form part of our investigations which are starting now with the deployment of large numbers of people,” she said. Anti-terrorism prosecutors are in contact with investigators.

Witnesses described how the gunman first attacked the Kurdish cultural centre before entering a nearby hairdressing salon where he was arrested by police.

“The shooting took place at a Kurdish community centre situated in the Rue d'Enghien, as well as at a restaurant facing the Kurdish centre and a hairdresser,” said district mayor Alexandra Cordebard.

The Kurdish Centre Ahmet Kaya is used by a charity that works to integrate the Kurdish population in the Paris region.

Some members of the Kurdish centre could be seen weeping and hugging each other for comfort on Friday afternoon.

“It's starting again. You aren't protecting us. We're being killed!” one of them cried to nearby police.

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced as “an odious attack” a shooting at a Kurdish community centre in Paris that left three people dead and wounded three others on Friday.

“The Kurds in France have been the target of an odious attack in the heart of Paris,” he wrote on Twitter.

Protests broke out later on Friday, with large crowds of Kurds clashing with police.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse crowds that had gathered on Rue du Faubourg and in the southern city of Marseille.

Video on social media showed fires as police moved to clear the streets surrounding the scene of the crime, which had been under lockdown for much of Friday morning.

At least 11 police officers have been injured in clashes, Le Monde reported.

The attacker's motives remain unclear, but his identity and target raised suspicions that the shooting could have been racially motivated.

Mr Darmanin said he would be returning to Paris following the incident and would visit the scene. He has repeatedly warned about the danger of violent far-right groups in France.

The French government asked police to reinforce protection of Kurdish community sites in the country, Mr Darmanin said.

Mathilde Panot, parliamentary head of the left-wing France Unbowed political party, blamed the far-right, calling the shooting a “racist attack”.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted: “The Kurdish community and, through it, all Parisians, was targeted by these assassinations committed by an extreme right-wing activist. Kurds wherever they reside must be able to live in peace and security. More than ever, Paris is by their side in these dark times.”

She also thanked police “for their decisive intervention this morning during the terrible attack in the 10th. Thoughts to the victims and their families. We are on their side.”

In January 2013, three Kurdish female activists were shot at a cultural centre in the 10th district.

France was hit by a string of high-profile attacks by Islamist extremists in 2015 and 2016 and remains on alert for terrorism-related violence.

French police secure a street after the fatal shooting in Strasbourg-Saint Denis, central Paris. Reuters

Witnesses reported seeing the gunman in Friday's attack shoot “blindly into the street”.

Others told the AFP news agency they heard “seven or eight shots” and that it was “total panic”.

Another person, speaking to BFM TV, said the suspected gunman opened fire in silence.

The shooting came at a time when Paris is buzzing with activity before the Christmas weekend. Police told people to stay away from the area where the attack took place.

Witnesses told AFP that the gunman first fired on the Kurdish cultural centre.

“We saw an old white man enter, then start shooting in the Kurdish cultural centre, then he went to the hairdresser's next door,” Romain, who works in a nearby restaurant, told AFP.

Resident Emmanuel Boujenan told AFP that the man had been arrested in the hair salon.

“There were people panicking, shouting to the police and pointing to the salon, 'he's in there, he's in there, go in',” he said.

He said he saw two people on the floor of the salon with leg wounds.

A shopkeeper in the area said she heard seven or eight shots. “It was total panic. We locked ourselves inside,” she said.

Rachida Dati, a local mayor, tweeted: “I extend my most sincere sympathy to the victims of the terrible shooting that took place this morning on Rue d'Enghien, in the heart of #Paris. I salute the speed and efficiency of the police, without which the toll could have been much heavier.”

David Belliard, a deputy mayor, pledged solidarity with the Kurdish community.

“Thoughts to the families today bereaved or affected by this terrible shooting. All my solidarity with the Kurdish community. Thank you to the police and firefighters for their intervention,” he tweeted.

Updated: December 24, 2022, 4:46 AM