Updated March 23
At least three people were killed after a gunman who allegedly claimed allegiance to Islamic State hijacked a car, shot at police officers and took hostages at a supermarket in southwest France on Friday.
The gunman was later shot, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb tweeted. Security sources told AFP the man was killed, and a police officer was injured during the operation to kill the gunman.
“Most of the Super U staff and customers managed to get away,” a security source told AFP.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said: “All the information we currently have leads us to believe it is a terrorist act,”
The local prosecutor’s office said the gunman claimed allegiance to Islamic State and the incident was being treated as a terror attack, but the man’s bayah to the leaders of ISIS has not been published, nor has ISIS confirmed a pledge of allegiance.
ISIS later claimed the attack via its Amaq news agency, saying “The attacker is a soldier of the Islamic state and carried out the operation in response to appeals targeting Coalition countries.” The wording of the claim is very similar to that used in a claim of responsibility for a 2017 attack in Barcelona, and is the formulation Amaq typically use to refer to attacks “inspired” by ISIS, rather than ISIS-directed attacks.
A security source told AFP that an officer was in contact with the hostage-taker prior to his death. According to BFM TV, the gunman called for the release of the sole surviving perpetrator of the 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam. This has not been confirmed by official sources.
French investigators suspect the gunman is a Moroccan man who had been flagged as a potential extremist, a security source told AFP.
Police officer shot
Security sources told AFP the man first hijacked a car in Carcassonne, 15 minutes drive away, on Friday morning, killing a passenger and injuring the driver.
Then, at around 11 am, he shot at a group of CRS national police reserves nearby who were returning from jogging, leaving one of the officers injured. Philippe said the injured officer was in a stable condition.
The man then drove to the nearby town of Trebes where at around 11:15 am he killed two people and injured another at a Super U supermarket, the sources said. The car was found in the parking lot of the supermarket, a security source told AFP.
If the link to Islamic State is confirmed, the hostage-taking would be the first deadly attack in France since October, when two young women were stabbed to death outside Marseille’s main train station.
France remains on high alert after a string of jihadist attacks since the January 2015 assault on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.
This was followed by attacks in Paris in November 2015 when ISIS jihadists killed 130 people in bombings and shootings at bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert venue and the national stadium.
In July 2016, in another attack claimed by ISIS, a man drove a truck through revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the Riviera resort of Nice, killing 84 people.
A state of emergency put in place just after the Paris attacks was finally lifted in October last year, but soldiers continue to patrol major tourist sites and transport hubs under an anti-terror mission.
The area of southwest France where Friday’s shootings took place has been scarred by Islamic extremism before. In 2012, Mohamed Merah shot dead seven people including three schoolchildren in the nearby city of Toulouse.
With reporting from AFP[This is a developing story]