PARIS (Reuters) -A gunman shot dead three people at a Kurdish cultural centre and nearby Kurdish cafe in central Paris on Friday, prompting scores of protesters to take to nearby streets.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the suspected assailant had clearly wanted to target foreigners, but there was no evidence yet that he had picked out Kurds specifically.
Multiple gunshots were fired on Rue d’Enghien at about midday, sowing panic on a street lined with small shops and cafes in the French capital’s busy 10th district.
All three of the deceased victims were Kurdish, a lawyer for the Kurdish cultural centre told Reuters.
As evening fell, riot police fired teargas to push back an angry crowd a short distance from the scene of the shootings as projectiles were thrown at officers, rubbish bins and restaurant tables overturned and at least one car damaged.
Authorities said they had arrested a 69-year-old man, who Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said had recently been freed from detention while awaiting trial for a sabre attack on a migrant camp in Paris a year ago.
Juan-Golan Eliberg, an artist who works at the Kurdish centre, told Reuters the shooter had targeted Kurds.
Eyewitness Mehmet Dilek told Reuters he first heard gunshots and then cries coming from inside a barber’s shop opposite the cultural centre. Bystanders subdued the gunman when he had to reload his firearm, Dilek added.
“It might be shocking for someone who has never had a worry in their life. But we grew up under the threat of arms and bombs, this is how life is for us Kurds,” he continued.
The shootings were a “terrible drama”, district mayor Alexandra Cordebard told reporters. One of those wounded had suffered life-threatening injuries, she said.
Kurdish leaders called for better protection for their community, a theme for Kurds in France since the high profile killings of three Kurdish women a decade ago.
Julien Verplancke who works at another local restaurant, Chez Minna, said staff from the Kurdish restaurant emerged from the premise in tears after the shooting.
Reuters was not immediately able to contact the suspect’s representatives. BFM TV reported the suspect was a French national.
Images broadcast on French news networks on Friday showed a white man wearing a grey top and scruffy white trainers being led away from the scene, his hands cuffed behind his back.
Several hours later, armed police were still guarding a security cordon as investigators combed the scene.
An investigation has been opened into murder, manslaughter and aggravated violence.
Salih Azad, a prominent figure from the Kurdish community in Marseille, said he knew one of the victims, a 26-year-old woman who had lived in Paris for several years.
“She was well integrated socially and culturally,” he said.