By AURELIEN BREEDEN and BENOIT MORENNE
PARIS – A police officer shot and wounded an assailant armed with a hammer and kitchen knives on the square outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Tuesday afternoon, according to authorities.
The cathedral, a Gothic landmark on the Ile de la Cite on the Seine, across from the headquarters of the Paris police prefecture, was sealed off, and about 900 visitors and worshippers were told not to leave until the situation was declared safe. The square was evacuated.
Gerard Collomb, the French interior minister, told reporters that the attack occurred around 4:20 p.m. when the man approached three police officers from behind and started hitting one of them with a hammer.
“This is for Syria,” the assailant yelled. At least one officer opened fire, injuring the attacker, who was hospitalized.
The attacker was carrying an identity card describing him as an Algerian student, Collomb said, adding that investigators still need to verify his identity, as well as his motivations. He appeared to be acting alone.
“One sees that we have gone from a very sophisticated terrorism to a terrorism where, in the end, any tool can be used to carry out attacks,” Collomb said.
Karine Dalle, a spokeswoman for the Paris archdiocese, said in a text message that the roughly 900 people inside the cathedral were notified about the violence and were “sitting calmly” until they were permitted to leave. Two auxiliary bishops were also present, Dalle said, and reassured the crowd.
There were no signs of panic. A witness inside Notre Dame reported on Twitter that visitors and worshippers were safe.
Three major terrorist attacks in France, in January 2015, November 2015 and July 2016, claimed more than 230 lives, and the country remains under a state of emergency.
Landmarks across France, the world’s most-visited country, are considered especially vulnerable, despite constant policing.
The attack outside the cathedral came just days before crucial legislative elections, the first round of which will take place Sunday.
President Emmanuel Macron has announced he will create a special task force to better coordinate the fight against terrorism.