Police have searched a home in a suburb east of Paris believed to be linked to the fatal shooting of a police officer on the Champs Elysees, as the ISIS terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The terror group’s news agency said the attacker was from Belgium and named him as Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki.
Two police officials told The Associated Press that the suspect is a 39-year-old from an eastern Paris suburb.
The attacker had been flagged as an extremist and was known to anti-terror police. Raids have been conducted at an address in a suburb to the east of Paris, which AP reported was the family home of 39-year-old Karim Cheurfi.
Dramatic video uploaded by a bystander purportedly shows the moment the shooter was shot dead by a police officer, after having killed an officer and wounded two others when he opened fire on the Champs Elysees around 9pm (5am AEST).
France’s Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the suspect used “a weapon of war” – believed to be an automatic weapon – to open fire on officers after stopping alongside a stationary police car.
“A man immediately got out and opened fire on the police car, fatally wounding a police officer … He also wounded a second one, it would seem very seriously,” he said.
Mr Brandet said the gunman was shot dead as he tried to flee the scene on foot.
A manager of a restaurant near the shooting site in the bustling shopping district said staff were forced to hide panicked customers.
“We had to hide our customers in the basement. [There was] lots of gunfire,” Choukri Chouanine said.
The Champs Elysees in the heart of the city was immediately blocked by armed officers after the attack and nearby metro stations were closed.
Observers had long feared an attack ahead of Sunday’s election in France, following a string of atrocities by extremists since 2015 that have claimed over 230 lives.
The impact on the outcome of one of the most unpredictable contests in decades is unclear, but far-right leader Marine Le Pen and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon immediately cancelled their campaign events on Friday.
The shooting comes two days after the arrest of two men in southern Marseille who allegedly possessed weapons and explosives and were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the campaign which concludes on Sunday.
French President Francois Hollande, again forced to address the nation after an attack, promised “absolute vigilance, particularly with regard to the electoral process” and paid tribute to the police.
Le Pen earlier welcomed security moving to the heart of the campaign Thursday as she took part in a prime-time interview show alongside 10 other presidential candidates.
“We are suffering the consequences of a laxity that has continued for years,” she said shortly before the shooting, promising to take a hard line against extremists and anyone suspected of being an Islamist.
For weeks, centrist former banker Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen have been out in front but opinion polls now show there is a chance that any of four leading candidates could reach the second-round runoff on May 7.
As the first details of the Champs Elysees shooting filtered through, US President Donald Trump sent his condolences and said that “it looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It just never ends.”
France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of alert since the attacks that began in 2015.
The Charlie Hebdo magazine publisher was hit in January 2015, sites around Paris including the Bataclan concert hall were targeted in November the same year and a truck was deliberately driven through crowds at a fireworks display in Nice in July last year.
In between, there have been a series of smaller attacks, often aimed at security forces.
Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs Elysees or other potential targets including government buildings and religious sites.
In February, a man armed with a machete in each hand attacked soldiers on patrol at Paris’s Louvre Museum. The attacker, a 29-year-old Egyptian, was seriously injured.
And in March, a 39-year-old man was killed at Paris’s Orly airport after attacking a soldier.