Knife Attack at Paris Police Headquarters Leaves Four Officers Dead

The police building is located close to Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral and several other major tourist attractions [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

A veteran police employee in France slipped a knife through security at the heavily guarded Police Headquarters in the heart of Paris on Thursday, killing four of his colleagues before being shot dead in the building’s vast courtyard.

The employee, a 45-year-old man who worked in computer services for the intelligence division of the Paris police, moved methodically from his office, up the stairs and back down, killing one woman and three men as he went, police union officials told French television.

The attack immediately raised fears of a return to the waves of terrorism that hit Paris in 2015 and 2016, which included assaults on the police, although officials were looking elsewhere for a motive, at least for now.

Discontent among police officers was already rising before the attack, and the authorities will almost certainly be asked to explain how a man with a knife was able to enter a heavily secured Police Headquarters filled with armed officers and kill four people before finally being brought down.

The unhappiness and disquiet plaguing the French police have led to a record number of suicides and to a mass demonstration by officers through Paris on Wednesday, the biggest in nearly 20 years.

“It might be the expression of a new malaise at the heart of the police, like this wave of suicides,” Denis Jacob, a police union official, told French television on Thursday after the attack. An official with another police union said there were morale problems among administrative workers, who were held in low esteem.

The attacker had converted to Islam, according to a police spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with police protocols. The spokesman added that that was just one element of the investigation, and that his conversion “doesn’t mean that he is radicalized.”

Mindful of the deep unease among the police, signaled by the march, the country’s top leadership — President Emmanuel Macron, along with his prime minister and interior minister — quickly rushed to Police Headquarters, a massive 19th-century building on the Île de la Cité, adjacent to Notre-Dame cathedral.

Mr. Macron, speaking later on Thursday from southern France, where he was debating his government’s pension reforms, called the killings a tragedy and observed a minute of silence with the 500 or so people who had gathered for the discussion.

The attacks began shortly before 1 p.m. Paris time, when the headquarters was bustling with activity: document seekers getting papers signed, police officials piling out of their offices to go to lunch and all around a swirling crowd of visitors who fill the island in the middle of the Seine river.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Adam Nossiter, Aurelien Breeden and Elian Peltier