A gunman killed three people and wounded three more near a Kurdish cultural centre in central Paris on Friday, in what the city prosecutor said may have been a racially motivated shooting.
The assailant, a 69-year-old man who was known to police for previous violent attacks, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder, manslaughter and aggravated violence. He was taken to hospital after sustaining injuries.
Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said the man had been released from detention less than a fortnight ago after being arrested a year ago for attacking a migrant camp in the city with a sword.
Two people were wounded in that attack, when the man had slashed at tents, she added. The assailant had also previously been involved in an incident in the city’s Seine-Saint-Denis suburb, which is home to a large population of immigrants, she said.
“A racist motivation [for this attack] is one of our lines of inquiry,” Beccuau told reporters. She declined to say if the suspect belonged to a far-right organisation but said anti-terror investigators were not for now involved.
The gunman had opened fire at about midday at a Kurdish cultural centre and also hit people at a neighbouring Kurdish restaurant and a hair salon, Alexandra Cordebard, mayor of Paris’s 10th arrondissement, told reporters. French media cited witnesses who said the man had fired blindly with a handgun at several people, sending crowds running.
No details were given of the identities of the three people who were killed. One of those wounded was in a critical condition, Cordebard added.
The attack on a street in the heart of the city shocked Parisians and left the French capital on alert just two days before Christmas.
The city was hit by a wave of Islamist militant attacks in 2015, including a deadly shooting at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper. The same year, a series of co-ordinated assaults in restaurants, bars and the Bataclan concert hall in the heart of Paris left 130 people dead, in the deadliest attack in peacetime France.
That traumatic period, which was also followed by a truck attack in Nice, has had a prolonged fallout on life within France and affected debates on immigration and security, including as the far-right has risen as a political force.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne called Friday’s attack an “odious act” and said an investigation was under way.
Paris’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo denounced the shooting and said the attacker was a far-right extremist. “The Kurdish community, and with it all Parisians, was targeted in these murders committed by a far-right militant,” Hidalgo said on Twitter. “More than ever, Paris is at their side in these dark moments.”
The far-right Rassemblement National’s Marine Le Pen, who lost a presidential election run-off against Emmanuel Macron this year, called the attack a “terrible tragedy”.