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Louvre machete attacker likely Egyptian

Louvre machete attacker likely Egyptian

3 min. 04.02.2017 From our online archive
Art lovers returned to the Louvre in Paris on Saturday, 24 hours after a soldier shot a machete-wielding attacker at the museum, believed to be an Egyptian who entered the country a week ago.

(AFP) - Art lovers returned to the Louvre in Paris on Saturday, 24 hours after a soldier shot a machete-wielding attacker at the museum, believed to be an Egyptian who entered the country a week ago.

The incident on Friday thrust security and the terror threat back into the limelight three months before elections in France, with authorities saying it was a "terrorist" assault.

It also risked dealing another blow to Paris' lucrative tourism industry which has been badly affected by a string of attacks since 2015.

At the Louvre on Saturday, a crowd had formed at the main entrance as the doors re-opened to the first visitors of the day on schedule at 09:30am.

"I'm quite worried about coming today, but as we weren't able to visit yesterday we decided to come back anyway," 28-year-old Russian visitor Elena Lordugen said.

Soldiers in uniform with machine guns could be seen patrolling as usual, with routine bag checks also undertaken by Louvre security staff. Ali Tali, a Turkish tourist in his 40s, shrugged off their presence. "We're used these security measures in Turkey," he said.

Investigation points to Egyptian nationality

French investigators say Friday's attacker, in a black T-shirt bearing a skull design and armed with two machetes, lunged at four patrolling French soldiers while shouting "Allahu Akbar". They are examining the Twitter account of an Egyptian man named Abdallah El Hamahmy after around a dozen messages were posted in Arabic between 9:27-9:34am, just minutes prior to the attack.

"In the name of Allah... for our brothers in Syria and fighters across the world," El Hamahmy wrote, before making reference to the Islamic State jihadist group in another tweet a minute later.

One of the troops was "lightly injured" in the attack after being struck on the head in a public area that leads to one of the museum's entrance. A second soldier opened fire five times and hit the machete-wielder in the stomach.

"The attacker fell to the ground, seriously wounded," Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a press conference late Friday. His condition stabilised overnight in a Parisian hospital, a source close to the case revealed.

Based on his phone and visa records, he is thought to be a 29-year-old Egyptian national who is resident in the United Arab Emirates. Investigators have established he entered France legally on a flight from Dubai on January 26 and had rented an expensive apartment near the Champs Elysée, sources close to the case told AFP.

Held at a Paris hospital overnight, the suspect's condition stabilised and by Saturday morning it was "no longer life-threatening", a source close to the case said Saturday. But he was not yet well enough to communicate with investigators.

Speaking to AFP in Cairo, retired police general Reda El Hamahmy said he believed the wounded suspect was his son, Abdallah, who was in Paris on a business trip.

He said there were no signs his son had been radicalised. "He went on a company trip and when it was over visited the museum. He was supposed to leave on Saturday," he said, saying his son was married and his pregnant wife was currently staying in Saudi Arabia with their seven-month old son.

"He is a simple guy," he added, describing his family as a "moderate household". "I can show you pictures where he has no beard," he said. Beards are often grown by devout Muslims.

"Terrorist nature of this act"

The government of the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, condemned the "hateful crime" and assured France of its "full solidarity".

President Francois Hollande said that "there is little doubt as to the terrorist nature of this act," an assessment echoed by Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

Witnesses described scenes of panic as people fled the Louvre complex following the incident. "We heard gunshots. We didn't know what it was about. Then we evacuated the employees and we left," one man who works in a nearby restaurant stated.

The Louvre, a former palace in the heart of the city, has seen annual visitor numbers fall by some two million since 2015 to 7.3 million.