A man brandishing a hammer was shot and wounded by police after he tried to attack two police officers outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Tuesday.
Police said they fired on the man after he threatened them and passersby in the crowded terrace outside the cathedral. The attacker was taken to a hospital as police and soldiers on high alert for terrorist attacks rushed to the scene.
Hundreds of tourists at the popular attraction took shelter in Notre Dame and nearby cafes.
Among them was Nancy Soderberg, a former White House deputy national security advisor and ambassador to the United Nations. She tweeted a dramatic photo of visitors inside the cathedral with their hands raised. In an interview with the BBC, she said she was “very proud of how calm everyone was.” She added: “It was terrifying, but I never felt personally at risk.”
A witness told France’s BFMTV that he had heard two shots about 4:20 p.m., local time. David Rahul Metreau, who watched the scene from his apartment overlooking the cathedral, said he could see a man on the ground, with people from the emergency services gathered around.
France has been under a state of emergency since the November 2015 bombings and shootings in Paris that killed 130 people.
There have been periodic scattered incidents in the meantime. Two months ago, a police officer was shot dead by an attacker on the Champs Elysées. The killer was shot to death by other officers.
The abortive attack at Notre Dame also came four days after seven people in London were killed by three assailants who were swiftly shot dead by police. Those attackers used a van to ram pedestrians on London Bridge and then slashed patrons in nearby Borough Market.
The esplanade outside the cathedral was packed with tourists at the time of Tuesday’s shooting. Yvan Assioma, a police union spokesman, said more than a hundred police officers were at the scene.
Another police spokesman, Yves Lefebvre, said the attacker “approached a police officer, took a hammer from his backpack and hit the police officer over the head. His colleague saw what happened and shot him.” He said the officer’s injuries were not believed to be serious.
Anti-terrorist police immediately opened an investigation.
Forty minutes after the attack, the Paris prefecture of police tweeted: “Situation under control. One police officer injured. The attacker has been neutralized and taken to hospital.”
The suspect was shot in the legs, police said.
Willsher is a special correspondent.
9:00 a.m.: This story has been updated with Nancy Soderberg tweet and comments, mention of London attack.
8:45 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional background, police statements.
8:30 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional details, staff reporting.
8:10 a.m.: This story has been updated with Paris police saying an officer shot and injured an attacker.
7:55 a.m.: This story has been updated with information on police activity in the area.
This story originally published at 7:40 a.m.