By James McAuley and William Branigin,
PARIS — A gunman opened fire on French police Thursday on a renowned Paris boulevard, killing one and wounding two others before being fatally shot himself in an incident that shook France just three days before a crucial election.
The French Interior Ministry, confirming the shooting, said two police officers were “seriously wounded” and that security forces gunned down the attacker. The ministry said the person fired on a police car.
A spokeswoman for the Paris police, Johanna Primevert, said the gunman attacked police guarding an area near the Franklin Roosevelt metro station Thursday night at the center of the heavily traveled Champs-Élysées avenue, the Associated Press reported.
The Reuters news agency later reported a second police officer died of his wounds.
There was no immediate indication of a possible motive for the attack, nor any immediate claim of responsibility. But French police said they have opened a terrorism investigation in the case.
The incident occurred three days before France holds the first round of a presidential election. The country has been hit by a deadly wave of terrorist violence in the last two years that has claimed the lives of at least 230 people, with hundreds more injured.
The shooting — on the most famous boulevard in the French capital, always crowded with tourists and commuters — came just two days after authorities arrested two men in the southern city of Marseille on suspicion of plotting what Paris prosecutors described as an “imminent” and “violent” attack. Police discovered an Islamic State flag and three kilograms of explosives in one of their homes.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in France, including a coordinated November 2015 terrorist assault on multiple targets in Paris that left 130 people dead and more than 360 wounded.
After that attack and others in the last two years — many perpetrated by Islamic State militants or those claiming to be inspired by the extremist group — terrorism and national security remain crucial issues in the most contentious election France has seen in decades.
The leader of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, has campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant platform and what she has couched as the need to defend France from “Islamist globalization.” In the final days of the campaign, she said she would halt immigration altogether if elected president.
The shooting occurred in the middle of a televised campaign event, when each of the 11 current candidates was given 15 minutes to sell voters on their respective platforms.
The Paris police department promptly shut down the boulevard and advised pedestrians and commuters to avoid the Champs-Élysées, citing an ongoing operation.
At least three metro stations were closed, the Interior Ministry said.
There was no immediate information on the identities of the attacker or the policemen who were shot.
French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said police officers were deliberately targeted but that it was too early to say what the motive was, Reuters reported. The news agency said police sources had said earlier that the shooting could have stemmed from an attempted armed robbery.
In Washington, President Trump said during a news conference with the visiting Italian prime minister that the Paris shooting “looks like another terrorist attack,” and he offered s condolences to France.
According to Christophe Crépin, a spokesman for the UNSA Police Union, at least two men drove onto the Champs-Elysée and targeted officers patrolling near a Marks and Spencer store on the corner of the busy avenue.
Crépin said the whereabouts of the second alleged gunman were not yet known.
Branigin reported from Washington.