A knife-wielding assailant has killed at least four police officers during an attack at the central police headquarters in the French capital, Paris, according to local officials.
The suspect, reportedly an administrative official who worked in the building, was shot dead by police at the scene on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear what the assailant’s motive was but Jean-Marc Bailleul, a police union leader, described the incident as “criminal” rather than an act of “terror”, the Reuters news agency reported.
Fellow union official Loic Travers said the incident appeared to have begun in an office and continued elsewhere inside the large compound, which is located near the Notre Dame Cathedral and several other major tourist attractions. It happened at about 1pm (12:00 GMT).
The surrounding area was cordoned off in the wake of the attack and the local metro station was shut down.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo confirmed that “several people” were fatally wounded, but she did not confirm the exact number of fatalities.
“Paris weeps for its own this afternoon,” Hidalgo wrote in a post on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner were expected to visit the spot of the attack.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said more details were beginning to emerge about the identity of the suspect.
“A police union spokesperson has said that the attacker was a 45-year-old man who had worked in police administration for more than 20 years and worked in this building, the Paris police headquarters,” Butler said.
Wave of panic
Interpreter Emery Siamandi, who was inside the building when the attack took place, told journalists he heard gunshots and witnessed the wave of panic that spread through the police headquarters with people screaming and crying, the Associated Press news agency reported.
“I tried to see if it was a terrorist attack or maybe several people had walked in to kill people,” the AP quoted Siamandi as saying after he was evacuated.
“I was suspicious and very soon I saw policemen with their guns drawn – they had guns. Where I was, 99 percent of people were policemen.”
Thursday’s attack came a day after thousands of officers marched in Paris to protest low wages, long-hours culture and increasing suicides in their ranks.
Organisers estimated that 27,000 officers out of 150,000 police staff nationwide took part, the AFP news agency reported. No independent estimate was available.
Police officers have also been the target of several earlier attacks in recent years.
In 2017, a gunman opened fire on the Champs-Elysees boulevard, killing one officer before he was shot dead.
Al Jazeera and news agencies