Paris (AFP) – French police launched an extensive manhunt in Paris on Monday for a lone gunman wielding a shotgun who critically wounded a newspaper photographer and opened fire outside a bank headquarters.
Officers on foot and in squad cars deployed throughout the nervous capital, taking up positions outside media offices, along the famed Champs-Elysees avenue and at entrances to stations for the underground train system, the Metro.
The gunman, wearing a cap and wielding a 12-gauge shotgun, opened fire at the offices of left-wing newspaper Liberation around 10:15 am Monday.
A 27-year-old photographer, who the newspaper said had arrived for his first day of freelance work, suffered buckshot wounds to the chest and stomach.
He was taken to hospital in a critical condition. The newspaper later said that he underwent surgery and was being kept in intensive care.
After fleeing the daily’s offices in the central east of Paris, the same man is believed to have crossed the city to the La Defense business district where he fired several shots outside the main office of the Societe Generale bank, hitting no one.
He then reportedly hijacked a car and forced the driver at gunpoint to drop him off close to the Champs-Elysees.
Unconfirmed rumours rippled through the city that the man was armed with grenades as well as the hunting-style pump-action shotgun used in the two shootings.
The motive for the shootings was not known.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking during a trip to Jerusalem, warned of the danger the gunman presented.
He “could still kill tomorrow or at any time,” Hollande said.
Police said security camera images of the shooter suggested he was the same man who last Friday stormed into the Paris headquarters of TV news channel BFMTV to threaten staff.
In that incident, the gunman pumped his shotgun to empty several cartridges on the floor, while warning a senior editor: “Next time, I will not miss you.”
“Given the similarities in the four incidents, between the modus operandi, the physical appearance and attire of the perpetrator, and also in the ammunition gathered, we believe we are dealing with a single perpetrator,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.
Prosecutors released photographs of the man taken from surveillance camera images and described him as white, aged between 35 and 45, of average height, with salt-and-pepper hair and stubble.
Liberation executive Nicolas Demorand said the shooting in the paper’s entrance hall left staff traumatised.
“When you have someone with a shotgun coming into a newspaper’s offices in a democracy, it is very, very serious, whatever the mental state of the person,” Demorand told AFP. “If papers and other media have to become bunkers, something has gone wrong in our society.”
Liberation journalist Anastasia Vecrin described the scene she encountered on what was otherwise a normal Monday morning.
“I was just arriving for work and I saw a man lying on the ground, holding his stomach and with blood everywhere,” she told AFP. “I met two of the reception staff who were completely white and who told me: ‘We’ve just been shot at.'”
A witness to the shooting outside Societe Generale’s headquarters, Francisco Alvarez, told AFP: “I saw this guy with a cap and a shotgun, a pump-action shotgun, in his hand. I don’t think he was necessarily targeting anyone, he shot in the air then into a window.”
Philippe Antoine, the editor-in-chief of BFMTV, met face-to-face with the attacker during Friday’s incident and said he had appeared calm and determined.
The man looked at him with “a lot of intensity and determination,” Antoine said. “This was someone who was very precise in his movements, not panicked at all, someone who was in control.”
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that everything possible would be done to apprehend the shooter.
“This individual is on the run and he represents a real danger. We will do everything we can to arrest him,” he said.
The front page of Tuesday’s edition of Liberation will read: “He pulled out a gun and fired twice,” Demorand told AFP.
Inside, the daily will dedicate four pages to the shooting drama, including an editorial entitled “We will continue.”