Paris was plunged into panic — again — when soldiers guarding the Louvre Museum shot an attacker who lunged at them with two machetes on Friday and shouted "Allahu Akbar!" as the historic landmark went into lockdown.
The threat appeared to quickly recede after the assailant was subdued, but it cast a new shadow over the city just as tourism was beginning to rebound after a string of deadly attacks. Coming just hours before Paris finalized its bid for the 2024 Olympics, it also renewed questions about security in the City of Light.
The soldiers' quick action put an end to what French President Francois Hollande said was "no doubt" a terrorist attack at one of Paris' most iconic tourist attractions.
French prosecutor Francois Molins said the assailant was believed to be a 29-year-old Egyptian who had been living in the United Arab Emirates, though his identity has not yet been formally confirmed.
"Everything shows that the assailant was very determined", Molins told a news conference, adding that the attacker, who was shot four times, was in a life-threatening condition in a hospital.
Anti-terrorism prosecutors took charge of the investigation as police carried out raids near the tree-lined Champs-Elysees linked to the attack, which came two months after authorities carried out a special anti-terrorism exercise around the Louvre.
Molins said the attacker was not carrying any identity papers but investigators used his cellphone and a national data base of visa applicants containing their photos and fingerprints to determine that he was a resident of the United Arab Emirates who arrived in Paris on a tourist visa on Jan. 26.
Two days later the suspect bought two military machetes at a gun store in Paris, the prosecutor said. He also paid 1,700 euros for a one-week stay at an apartment in the chic 8th arrondissement of the French capital, near the Champs-Elysees.
In the apartment, police found an Egyptian passport and 965 euros, as well as a residence permit, driver's license and a credit card all issued from the UAE, Molins said. He said the suspect's return flight to Dubai was scheduled for Sunday.
Friday's attack targeted an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the sprawling Louvre, a medieval former royal palace now home to the "Mona Lisa" and hundreds of other masterpieces.
Waving two machetes over his head, the assailant lunged at the soldiers patrolling in the mall, shouting "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great!" Molins said.
One soldier fought him off and was slightly injured in the scalp. Another soldier fell to the ground as the assailant tried to slash him, then opened fire, shooting the attacker in the stomach. When that didn't stop him, the soldier fired three more time, gravely wounding him. The backpack the man was carrying contained cans of spray paint, but no explosives, Molins said.
The 1,200 people inside the Louvre — one of the world's biggest tourist attractions — were first shuttled into windowless rooms as part of a special security protocol before being evacuated. The museum in central Paris remained closed for the rest of Friday but will reopen on Saturday, Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay told reporters.
Hollande, speaking at a news conference in Malta where he was attending a European Union summit, said that while the Louvre incident was quickly contained, the overall threat to France remains high. He said the incident showed the need for the increased security patrols deployed around France since attacks in 2015.
Those patrols — numbering about 3,500 soldiers in the Paris area — were first deployed following the January 2015 attack on Paris' satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and reinforced after the November 2015 bomb-and-gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city's Bataclan concert hall and other sites. The country has been under a state of emergency since.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux praised the soldiers involved in Friday's attack, saying "to wear a uniform, as we can see in the propaganda of those who want to attack us, is to be a target."
Restaurant worker Sanae Hadraoui, 32, said she was waiting for breakfast at a McDonald's in the Louvre's restaurant complex when she heard the first gunshot, followed by another and then a couple more.
"I hear a shot. Then a second shot. Then maybe two more. I hear people screaming, 'Evacuate! Evacuate!'" she said. "They told us to evacuate. I told my colleagues at the McDonald's. We went downstairs and then took the emergency exit."
Parisian Makram Chokri, who was shopping in the mall, described hearing a "boom, boom, boom over a few seconds. ... We thought it was an exercise at first but you know, you have a lot of scenarios going through your mind."
Police sealed off mall entrances near the Louvre and closed the area to vehicles, snarling traffic in Paris. Confused tourists were shooed away.
Lance Manus, a tourist from Albany, New York, described young girls crying in panic, and had immediate thoughts of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
"That's what we're used to now," he said. "I mean we have to learn to live with it, be vigilant. So we listen to instructions from the security guards and do what they told us."
Eric Grau, a high school teacher chaperoning a group of 52 students, said: "We were in one of the galleries and a voice came through the loudspeakers to alert us, saying there was an alert." He said the group was taken to safety in the African art gallery.
The attack came hours before the city unveiled its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Paris is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles for the games, which it hasn't hosted since 1924.
Speaking outside the Louvre, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said terrorism threatens all of the world's big cities and "there is not a single one escaping that menace."
The speed with which Paris largely went back to normal after the attack, with officers gradually dismantling barricades and pulling down police tape around the Louvre just three hours later, underscored how the French city has — unwillingly but stoically — been forced to learn to live with extremist threats.
Within hours, French radio stations went back to talking about storms battering the west coast and school holiday traffic.
Louvre terror attack: Egyptian man, 'who arrived in France in January' shot five times after attacking soldier with machete
French soldiers shot and critically wounded a man who shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he attacked them with a machete on Friday at the Louvre, the world’s most visited museum.
Police sources said the attacker was a 29-year-old with Egyptian identity papers who arrived in France last month. He was reportedly identified on Friday night as Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy.
A group of British students were among the hundreds of panicked visitors at the Louvre who were rushed to secure rooms inside the sprawling museum after the assault.
The attack, which President François Hollande said was clearly an act of terrorism, was the latest in a series of deadly assaults in France over the last two years, most of them claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The man was carrying two backpacks when at around 10am local time he approached four soldiers patrolling at the entrance to the underground Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall, which lies beneath the museum.
They told him he could not bring his bags into the mall.
"That's when he got the knife out and that's when he tried to stab the soldier," said Yves Lefebvre, a police union official.
The soldiers first tried to beat off the attacker before opening fire, said Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the 3,500-strong military force that patrols Paris and its major tourist attractions.
They fired five bullets at the man, wounding him in the stomach and the leg, and leaving him in a critical condition. Two of the soldiers suffered minor injuries in the encounter.
Police were on Friday night trying to establish whether he acted alone or under instructions, the Paris prosecutor said.
The prosecutor, Francois Molins, confirmed the 29-year-old Egyptian had arrived in Paris on January 26 after acquiring a one-month tourist visa in Dubai.
Mr Molins hailed the intervention of soldiers, which had halted "a very determined assailant".
The attacker was last night said to be in a life-threatening condition.
The Louvre - one of the world's biggest tourist attractions which last year pulled in 7.3 million visitors - went into emergency lock-down after the attack.
Police sealed off the entrances to the mall, closed off the Rue de Rivoli which runs along the museum and the surrounding streets, and ordered nearby metro stations to be shut down.
A group of around 50 students from Godalming sixth form college in Surrey was among the 1,200 people inside the museum at the time who were taken to windowless rooms, where they had to wait for several hours before being allowed to leave when the all-clear was given.
A statement from the school said: "Godalming College can confirm that a group of students and staff, who are in Paris on a History of Art trip, were at the Louvre this morning at the time of the incident.
"We are pleased to report that all the students and staff are safe."
"There were announcements, then the security guards started running all over the place and after a short period they started gathering everybody up and getting them to one side of the building," said Lance Manus, 73, from Albany, New York.
"They pulled the shades, they didn't want anybody to sit by the windows," said Mr Manus, in Paris with his wife Wendy to mark their 50th wedding anniversary.
"I guess they were concerned that something would be coming from outside."
People were calm, but some young children were crying, they said.
"The very young children, the teachers kept them busy playing games," said Wendy Manus. "They were singing and trying to keep the children calm and quiet."
The museum in central Paris, which is home to the Mona Lisa and the world’s biggest collection of art, remained closed for the rest of Friday but was due to open again on Saturday.
Checks of the attacker's two backpacks found they contained paint spray cans but no explosives, Paris police chief Michel Cadot said.
A second person who was "acting suspiciously" was also arrested nearby but appeared not to be linked to the attack.
The attack's timing was poor for Paris, coming just hours before the city was unveiling its completed bid for the 2024 Olympics. Paris is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles for the games, which it has not hosted since 1924.
It has also thrust security and terrorism threat back into the limelight with just three months to go before presidential elections.
More than 230 people have been killed in terror attacks in France since January 2015, including 130 who died when gunmen and suicide bombers who claimed allegiance to Isil hit several targets in Paris in November 2015.
Friday’s attack at the Louvre will likely make even more foreign and French tourists reconsider plans to visit the world’s most popular museum.
More than seven million people visited it last year, but that was down 15 per cent on the year before.
Officials said the sharp drop in numbers at the Louvre, and at the nearby Musee d’Orsay, was in large part due to the terror attacks.
The Louvre incident on Friday was strikingly similar to an attack on 7 January 2016, when a Tunisian man brandishing a butcher’s knife and carrying a backpack assaulted officers on duty in front of a Paris police station.
Police shot him dead on the street outside the station, and later found a document among his belongings in which he had professed allegiance to Isil.
Louvre museum: French soldiers shoot knife-wielding man, thwart suspected terror attack
An Egyptian national visiting France on a tourist visa has threatened soldiers at the Louvre Museum in Paris with a machete, in what officials are describing as a suspected terror attack.
French soldiers neutralised the threat when they opened fire on and wounded the man, who they had stopped when he tried to enter the Louvre carrying two bags.
The attacker launched himself at the soldiers when they told him that he could not take his bags into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall underneath the world-famous museum.
Police inquiries established that the man, who was hospitalised after being shot in the abdomen, was a 29-year-old Egyptian who arrived in France on January 26 after obtaining a tourist visa in Dubai, Paris prosectutor Francois Molins said.
Security sources in Cairo identified the man as Abdullah Reda al-Hamamy, who was born in Dakahlia, a province north-east of Cairo.
The man was wearing a black T-shirt with a death's head emblem when he attacked soldiers checking bags near the museum's shopping mall "with a machete in each hand", Mr Molins said.
He struck one soldier and knocked another one to the ground. When he continued his attacks the soldier on the ground shot him in the abdomen, Mr Molins said.
The head of the French capital's police force, Michel Cadot, said the man cried out "Allahu Akbar" while brandishing the weapon.
Spraypaint cans — but no explosives — were found in his backpack, a source close to the investigation told Reuters.
Police have searched an apartment the man had rented in Paris and are now working to establish whether he acted alone, on impulse, or on orders from someone, Mr Molins said.
Visitors learned of attack over loudspeaker
The Louvre Museum — where the Mona Lisa hangs — went into emergency lockdown following the attack, with authorities closing the museum and keeping visitors inside from leaving.
Police said the area had been evacuated and they cordoned off access to the museum.
Visitors to the Louvre reportedly learned of the attempted attack by loudspeaker, but there was no panic, witnesses said.
But some children cried as guards directed people to sit tight together and away from windows.
"[The announcement] came over the loudspeakers that are dotted around," said Paul Lecher, 68, a retired Parisian and frequent Louvre visitor.
"Everything happened calmly. It was just a case of listening ... people quickly understood, even those who didn't understand a word of French, that something unusual was happening."
President Francois Hollande praised the soldiers' "courage and determination".
Heavily armed soldiers have been on the streets of Paris since the terrorist attacks on the city in November 2015.
The most recent deadly attack took place in the southern city of Nice when a man drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86.
In September, in an attempted attack, a group of women parked a car containing gas canisters near Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.