French Soldiers Thwart Machete Attack at Louvre Museum; Attacker Believed to Be Egyptian

The attack's timing was poor for Paris, coming just hours before the city was unveiling its completed bid for the 2024 Olympics

A knife-wielding man shouting "Allahu akbar" attacked soldiers on patrol Friday near the Louvre Museum in Paris in what the French president called a terrorist attack. The soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker and then opened fire, shooting him five times.

The attack at an entrance to the shopping mall that extends beneath the museum sowed panic and highlighted again the threat that French officials say hangs over the country, which was hit repeatedly by extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016.

A French prosecutor said the suspect is believed to be a 29-year-old Egyptian who was living in the United Arab Emirates, but his identity had not been formally confirmed yet. He is near death in a Paris hospital, the prosecutor said. 

French President Francois Hollande said the assailant would be questioned "when it is possible to do so."

Hollande says there's "no doubt" that the attack on the Louvre Museum was of a "terrorist nature."

The Louvre — one of France's and the world's biggest tourist attractions — went into emergency lock-down after the attack. The 1,200 people inside at the time were first shuttled into windowless rooms as part of a special security protocol, then were evacuated later.

The famed, sprawling museum in central Paris will remain closed for the rest of Friday for further security reasons but will reopen on Saturday, Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay told reporters.

At a news conference in Malta, site of a European Union summit, Hollande said the situation around the Paris landmark museum is "totally under control" but the overall threat to France remains. He praised the courage of the French troops, and insisted that the incident showed the need for the increased security patrols deployed around France since attacks in 2015.

The attack's timing was poor for Paris, coming just hours before the city was unveiling its completed bid for the 2024 Olympics. Paris is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles for the games, which it hasn't hosted since 1924.

A police union official said the Louvre attacker was carrying two backpacks and had two machetes. He said the man launched himself at the soldiers when they told him he couldn't 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 military 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 bomb-and-gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city's Bataclan concert hall and other sites.

Friday's 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 explosives, he said. Cadot said a second person who was "acting suspiciously" also was arrested but appeared 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!" she said. "They told us to evacuate. I told my colleagues at the McDonald's. We went downstairs and then took the emergency exit."

Hadraoui, who has worked at the Louvre for seven years, said the evacuation was orderly.

Parisian Makram Chokri, who was shopping in the mall, described hearing a "boom, boom, boom over a few seconds. ... We thought it was an exercise at first but you know, you have a lot of scenarios going through your mind."

Police sealed off mall entrances near the Louvre and closed the area to vehicles, snarling traffic in Paris. Confused tourists were shoed away.

Lance and Wendy Manus, tourists from Albany, New York, described young girls crying in panic, and had immediate thoughts of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

"That's what we're used to now. I mean we have to learn to live with it, be vigilant. So we listen to instructions from the security guards and do what they told us," Lance said.

Eric Grau, a high-school teacher with group of 52 students, said: "We were in one of the galleries and a voice came through the loudspeakers to alert us, saying there was an alert." He said the group was taken to safety in the African art gallery.

The attack's timing was poor for Paris, coming just hours before the city was unveiling its completed bid for the 2024 Olympics. Paris is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles for the games, which it hasn't hosted since 1924.

With the International Olympic Committee choosing the host in September, Friday's attack generated renewed questions about security in the City of Light.

Speaking outside the Louvre, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said terrorism threatens all of the world's big cities and "there is not a single one escaping that menace."

The speed with which Paris largely went back to normal after the attack, with officers gradually dismantling barricades and pulling down police tape around the Louvre just three hours later, underscored how the French city has — unwillingly but stoically — been forced to learn to live with extremist threats.

Within hours, French radio stations went back to talking about storms battering the west coast and school holiday traffic.

Exterminator Olivier Majewski 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.'"

"They were panicked," he said.

The 53-year-old hid for about 15 minutes before gingerly making his way up the stairs.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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