A knife-wielding man, wearing fake explosives and carrying an Islamic State flag, was shot dead by officers as he tried to enter a police station in northern Paris, according to French officials. The incident happened on the one-year anniversary of the Paris terror attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the man is believed to have cried out "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic, as he tried to enter the station in the 18th arrondissement Thursday (Jan. 7).
Although officials have not yet identified the assailant, the French newspaper Le Soir reported his identity as Salah Ali, born in 1995 in Morocco.
The man, armed with a butcher knife, carried an Islamic State flag printed on a piece of paper along with a statement in Arabic claiming responsibility for the attack, the French prosecutor's office said in a statement. The man was also carrying a cellphone.
Alexis Mukenge, who saw the shooting from inside another building, told the network iTele that police told the man, “Stop. Move back.” Mukenge said officers fired twice, and the man immediately dropped to the ground.
The attack occurred only minutes after French President François Hollande, speaking at police quarters in another district, paid homage to police officers killed in the line of duty, including three shot to death last January during the Charlie Hebdo attack. Hollande also lay a wreath at official ceremonies marking the anniversary of the killings.
Police view Thursday's incident as more likely terrorism than a criminal act, a police official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of police policy.
Two other French officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, said the man's belt had wires protruding and was a fake explosive, the AP reported. One official said the man threatened officers at the police station with a butcher knife.
Until police determined the explosives were fake, the man's body lay on the sidewalk where it was inspected by a robot and bomb-sniffing dogs, The New York Times reported. Photos posted on Twitter after the attack showed the purported attacker's body lying on the pavement. He was wearing a camouflage coat.
At least a dozen police vans blocked the area in the Goutte d’Or district. Sirens were activated and neighborhood schools were placed on lockdown.
Paris has been on high alert ahead of the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and since the November terror assault on the French capital that left 130 dead.
On Jan. 7, 2015, Islamist militant brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, beginning three days of terror that left 17 people dead. The victims included a policewoman and hostages at a kosher grocery who were killed by another militant, Amedy Coulibaly. All three attackers were killed in standoffs with police.
A week of events to commemorate the attacks is currently taking place. Crowds turned out Thursday at Place de la Republique to add flowers, candles and notes to a huge makeshift memorial that sprang up after the November terror attacks.
In his remarks, Hollande said French security will be beefed up by 2017 with an additional 5,000 police and gendarmes.
(Doug Stanglin and Jane Onyanga-Omara write for USA Today)