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Knifeman who killed 3 officers and a civilian at Paris police HQ identified as part of staff, was recent Islamic convert

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Paris (dpa) – An employee at Paris police headquarters killed four colleagues on Thursday before being shot himself.

Police sealed off the imposing headquarters building, across a square from Notre Dame Cathedral, as news of the attack – carried out with a ceramic knife, according to French media – filtered out.

The attacker was a 45-year-old deaf man named Michael Harpon, an Islamic convert who worked at the company since 2003.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that the man had never previously raised any red flags.

“I know this man. He worked in IT and he had long-running problems with his superior,” said Christophe Crepin, a spokesman for the local police union. “He stabbed her first and then colleagues intervened and were stabbed as well. I am told he then got hold of a firearm.”

The man’s home was searched by police and his wife taken into custody as investigators tried to work out the motive for the attack.

Paris prosecutor Remi Heitz said that he was in “constant contact” with anti-terrorism prosecutors, who take over investigations into suspected acts of terrorism across France.

But for the moment, he remained in charge of the investigation, he said.

The incident started between 12:30 pm (1030 GMT) and 1 pm, Castaner said in a brief press conference with Heitz outside the building several hours later.

The victims were three police officers and another civilian employee, according to Heitz. They worked in the Police Prefecture’s intelligence and local security divisions.

The presumed attacker worked in the prefecture’s information technology service, Castaner said.

Shocked employees told press of their experiences after being evacuated from the prefecture.

Emery Siamandi told journalists that he had heard shots and saw three policewomen in tears, and had thought that an officer had committed suicide.

Then he found out about the attack, and saw the policeman who had shot the attacker, also in tears. Then, he said, Castaner arrived.

“When I saw his face, I said to myself, it’s very serious, because he was pale, he was really in a panic,” Siamandi recalled.

Police trade union official Loic Travers told broadcaster BFMTV that the attacker started his rampage in his own office and then moved elsewhere in the building.

Photographs broadcast by French media appeared to show the attacker lying on the ground in the courtyard of the prefecture building, near an internal entrance.

Information about the attack was slow to filter out, with mayor Anne Hidalgo the first official to confirm the deaths, in a tweet sent at 2:42 pm.

“Paris weeps for its own this afternoon after the horrific attack at the Police Prefecture,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo wrote on Twitter.

The Police Prefecture, the headquarters for police in Paris and the surrounding region, is an imposing building on the Ile de la Cite (City Island) in the heart of Paris, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame.

It is heavily guarded, and the many civilians who visit daily for administrative tasks such as applying for residence permits have to go through strict security checks.

The attack comes a day after thousands of police marched through Paris in protest at working conditions, long hours, suicides in the ranks, and proposed pension reforms.

Officers say they have been worn down by long deployments covering protests by the Yellow Vests movements, which have frequently degenerated into clashes with security forces.

That comes on top of a state of alert since Islamist terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 killed 237 people in France.

In one of those attacks, a police couple were killed by an extremist who broke into their home outside Paris.

Police and soldiers have been targeted in a number of, mostly unsuccessful, Islamist attacks since then. One police officer was killed in an attack on the Champs-Elysees in 2017.

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©2019 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

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