French police on Tuesday shot and seriously wounded an unarmed woman who was making threats at a train station in Paris during morning rush hour.
The incident came with the country on its maximum alert for potential attacks but with the police also under scrutiny over recent fatal shootings of suspects.
Witnesses said the 38-year-old woman, who was completely veiled, shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is Greatest”) and made threats including “you will all die”, a police source said, adding that “police fired because they feared for their safety”.
After passengers on a suburban train travelling from the eastern suburbs to Paris alerted police, agents managed to “isolate” the woman at the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterrand station on the capital’s south bank which was evacuated, the source said.
They ordered her to sit on the ground and stop moving, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told reporters.
But instead, he said, she moved towards them and ignored an order to show her hands.
– Eight shots fired –
Two police officers then fired eight rounds at the woman, inflicting a life-threatening injury to her abdomen, the prosecutor’s office said. It had earlier said that one officer had fired only one shot.
No explosives or other arms were found on the woman who was taken to hospital, the police source said.
Police have launched two investigations, prosecutors said. One will probe the woman’s actions, while another is to elucidate whether the police’s firearm use was justified.
Government spokesman Olivier Veran said that there had been “at least three” calls from passengers to rail operator SNCF, which in turn alerted police.
“Police, evaluating the situation to be dangerous, opened fire,” he told reporters.
Footage from the officers’ bodycams and from CCTV at the station would help establish the facts of the case precisely, he said.
Nunez said the woman, a French national, had in July 2021 been arrested by a military patrol, deployed to beef up security amid attack fears, when she threatened the soldiers with a screwdriver and “made remarks with a religious content”.
She was detained briefly, and then committed to psychiatric care, he said.
She was never on a radicalisation watchlist, Nunez said, contrary to what two police sources had claimed earlier.
France’s anti-terror unit is not part of the ongoing investigation of the incident, prosecutors said.
– France on edge –
The Bibliotheque Francois Mitterrand station, named after France’s national library which dominates the area, was still closed to the public in the early afternoon.
France has been under “attack alert” since October 13, when a teacher in the northern city of Arras was stabbed to death by an Islamist former pupil.
Many in France, which has large Muslim and Jewish populations, also fear repercussions from the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
Bomb alerts have led to the evacuation of dozens of airports, train stations and tourist sites — including the Versailles palace — in recent weeks.
On Monday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that there had been 819 anti-Semitic acts in France since October 7, and 414 connected arrests.
The conduct of French police has also been under intense scrutiny after a string of incidents this year where individuals have been fatally shot rather than arrested for refusing to obey an order.
The killing on June 27 by a police officer of 17-year-old Nahel M. during a traffic control near Paris sparked over a week of rioting that caused extensive damage.