Clashes erupted in Paris on Friday as shocked members of the Kurdish community in Paris demanded justice after a deadly shooting attack killed three people at a Kurdish cultural centre.
A 69-year-old, suspected of killing three civilians in the heart of the French capital, was arrested by the police on Wednesday. The suspect, known for racist attacks, was wounded during the attack.
The suspect, a retired train driver, was deliberately seeking out foreigners, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. But he added that it was “not certain” that the man was aiming to kill “Kurds in particular”.
Members of the Kurdish community in Paris said they had been recently warned by police of threats to Kurdish targets.
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.
The president of France denounced the “odious” attacks against “Kurds in France”.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweeted, “The Kurds of France have been the target of a heinous attack in the heart of Paris. Our thoughts are with the victims, the people who are struggling to live, their families and loved ones.”
Nearby residents and merchants were deeply rattled by the attack, which came as Paris is buzzing with festive activity before the Christmas weekend.
The shooting occurred at midday at a Kurdish cultural center, restaurant and hairdresser nearby, according to the mayor for the 10th arrondissement, Alexandra Cordebard. Speaking to reporters at the scene, she said the “real motivation″ for the shooting remains unclear.
Police cordoned off the area in the 10th arrondissement of the French capital, on a busy street with shops and restaurants near the Gare de l’Est train station. The Paris police department warned people to stay away from the area.
‘No sign of terrorist motive’
Paris Prosecutor Laure Beccuau said three people hit in the shooting have died, one is in critical condition and two others are hospitalized with less serious injuries. The attacker was also wounded in the face, she said.
She said anti-terrorism prosecutors are in contact with investigators, but haven’t indicated any sign of a terrorist motive.
The prosecutor said the suspect had at least two prior run-ins with police: the attack on migrants in tents in eastern Paris in 2021, and a recent conviction in another case in a Paris suburb. She didn’t elaborate on details of either case.
In the attack on migrants, the suspect wielded a saber and wounded some people in a makeshift camp, said Yann Manzi of aid group Utopia 56.
He lamented the suspect’s recent release, as did Kurds who gathered at the scene of Friday’s shooting.
“It’s clearly the Kurds who were targeted,” said activist Murat Roni, who comes regularly to the cultural center. He described it “like the embassy for Kurds in Paris,” a gathering place for cultural events, political discussion, assistance with immigration procedures, “a house where all Kurds get together.”
‘We do not feel protected in Paris’
After Friday’s shooting, he said, “We do not at all feel protected in Paris. … We don’t feel defended by the French justice system.”
A crowd in the neighborhood chanted, “Erdogan, terrorist” — referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — and “Turkish state, assassin.”
In 2013, three women Kurdish activists, including Sakine Cansiz — a founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK — were found shot dead at a Kurdish center in Paris. A Turkish citizen was charged with their killing, although suspicion also fell on the Turkish intelligence service.
Turkey’s army has been battling against Kurdish militants affiliated with the banned PKK, in southeast Turkey as well as in northern Iraq.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the United States, and has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Turkey’s military has also recently launched a series of strikes from the air and with artillery against Syrian Kurdish militant targets in northern Syria.
France was hit by a string of deadly attacks by Islamic extremists in 2015-2016 and remains on alert for terrorism-related violence.