PARIS: A 69-year-old gunman opened fire on a Kurdish cultural centre and a hairdressing salon in Paris on Friday, killing three people and injuring three others, witnesses and prosecutors said.
The shots shortly before midday (1100 GMT) caused panic in Rue d’Enghien in the trendy 10th district of the capital, a bustling area of shops and restaurants that is home to a large Kurdish population.
Witnesses said that the gunman, described by police as white, a French national and previously charged with racist violence, initially targeted the Kurdish cultural centre before entering a hairdressing salon where he was arrested.
Of the three wounded people, one is in intensive care and two are being treated for serious injuries, officials said.
The Kurdish community centre, called Centre Ahmet Kaya, is used by a charity that organises concerts and exhibitions, and helps the Kurdish diaspora in the Paris region.
Within hours of the attack, Kurdish protesters clashed with police, who used teargas in an attempt to disperse them as they tried to break through a police cordon deployed to protect Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin who had arrived at the scene.
Demonstrators threw objects at police while voicing fury over an attack they saw as deliberate and which French security services had done too little to prevent.
Several cars parked in the area as well as police vehicles had their windows smashed as protesters threw bricks.
The gunman, named as William M. in the French media, had already been linked to two previous attempted murders in 2016 and 2021.
The retired train driver was initially convicted over the first case in the multicultural Seine-Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, but freed on appeal, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau told reporters without giving further details.
In the second case, he was charged with racist violence after allegedly attacking migrants in tents in the Bercy area of the city in December 2021, Beccuau added.
At least two migrants suffered injuries from a sword used in the assault, a police source said.
“The Kurds in France have been the target of an odious attack in the heart of Paris,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
Authorities are likely to face questions in the coming days over why the gunman had been recently released on bail given his criminal record.
Darmanin told reporters at the scene that while the attacker “was clearly targeting foreigners,” it was “not certain” that the man was aiming to kill “Kurds in particular”.
“We yet don’t know his exact motives,” he said.
The minister has repeatedly warned about the danger of violent far-right groups in France.
Last month, 13 people from far-right political circles were ordered to stand trial for allegedly plotting to attack Macron. The Kurdish Democratic Council of France (CDK-F), which uses the cultural centre as its headquarters, said in a statement it considered the shooting to be a “terror attack”.
Some members of the Kurdish centre could be seen weeping and hugging each other for comfort after the attack. “It’s starting again. You aren’t protecting us. We’re being killed!” one of them cried to nearby police.
Often described as the world’s largest people without a state, the Kurds are a Muslim ethnic group spread across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
The Kurdish Democratic Council of France and Kurds at the scene underlined that the shooting coincided with the 10th anniversary of the murder of three female Kurdish militants in Paris.
A Turkish man was charged with the assassinations on January 9, 2013, but he died in custody before being tried.
The victims’ families have long pointed the finger at Turkey for masterminding the deaths of the three women, who were shot in the head and neck, and at France for failing to investigate properly. “The Kurdish Democratic Council of France condemns in the strongest possible terms this vile terrorist attack which occurred following multiples threats from Turkey, an ally of Daesh,” it said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State terror group.
Turkey launches regular military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) -- a designated terrorist group by the European Union and the United States -- as well as Kurdish groups it accuses of being allies. The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
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