Paris attack: Police officers shot dead, Champs Elysees closed off

French prosecutors have opened a terrorism investigation after three police officers were shot along the central Parisian boulevard, the Champs-Elysees.

A 37-year-old police officer died at the scene and two others were seriously wounded in the attack. That differed from earlier reports that said two police officers had died. 

Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said it was clear the police officers had been deliberately targeted.

"A little after 9pm a vehicle stopped alongside a police car which was parked. Immediately a man got out and fired on the police vehicle, mortally wounding a police officer."

READ MORE: Trump labels Paris attack 'terrorism'

The wide avenue that leads away from the Arc de Triomphe had been crowded with Parisians and tourists enjoying a spring evening but was quickly cleared by police.

"The sense of duty of our policemen tonight averted a massacre ... they prevented a bloodbath on the Champs Elysees," Interior Minister Matthias Fekl told reporters.

Are you a New Zealander in Paris who witnessed the incident? Email us at newstips@stuff.co.nz

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, according to Amaq - a news agency with an apparent association with the terrorist group. It named the attacker as Abu Yousif.

ATTACK LAUNCHED FROM CAR

The attack was launched from a car, when one of the assailants opened fire on a police van at a red light, killing an officer inside. 

Witness Chelloug, a kitchen assistant, said he was walking out of a shop and saw a man get out of a car and open fire with a rifle on a policeman.

"The policeman fell down. I heard six shots, I was afraid. I have a 2-year-old girl and I thought I was going to die... He shot straight at the police officer."

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman who was killed at the scene had been identified and police were on Friday hunting a second suspect in connection with the fatal shooting.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio after Thursday's shootout, in which an assailant was also killed, Brandet said a second man had been identified by Belgian security officials and flagged to French authorities. 

HOME OF KARIM CHEURFI SEARCHED

A police arrest warrant issued earlier on Thursday (Friday NZT), which was seen by Reuters after the attack, warned of a dangerous individual who had come into France by train from Belgium on that same day.

It was unclear if that man was the attacker or linked to the shooting.

Investigators searched a home on Friday afternoon in an eastern suburb of Paris believed to be linked to the attack.

A police document obtained by AP identifies the address searched in the town of Chelles as the family home of Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old with a criminal record.

Police tape surrounded the quiet, middle-class neighbourhood in Chelles, and worried neighbours expressed surprise at the searches.

Archive reports by French newspaper Le Parisien say that Cheurfi was convicted of attacking a police officer in 2001.

HOLLANDE CONVINCED IT'S TERROR

French President Francois Hollande said he was convinced the circumstances of the Paris shooting pointed to a terrorist act. Hollande scheduled an emergency meeting following the shootings.

One witness said he heard six shots fired, and saw the police officer hit the ground. 

"I came out of the Sephora shop and I was walking along the pavement where an Audi 80 was parked. A man got out and opened fire with a kalashnikov on a policeman," witness Chelloug, a kitchen assistant, said.

"The policeman fell down. I heard six shots, I was afraid. I have a two year-old girl and I thought I was going to die … He shot straight at the police officer."

US President Donald Trump said it was a "very, very terrible thing".

"It looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong."

THREE DAYS BEFORE THE VOTE

The attack comes three days before the first round of France's tense presidential election.

Security is high before the vote after police said they arrested two men on Tuesday in what they described as a thwarted terror attack.

France has lived under a state of emergency since 2015 and has suffered a spate of Islamist militant attacks, mostly perpetrated by young men who grew up in France and Belgium, which have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.

- Reuters and AP

Fuente: WAIKATO TIMES