, PARIS, Nov 19 – A huge manhunt was under way in Paris Tuesday for a lone gunman who shot and critically wounded a newspaper photographer before opening fire outside a bank headquarters and hijacking a car.
Officers on foot and in squad cars deployed throughout the nervous city, taking up positions outside media offices, along the Champs-Elysees avenue and at entrances to stations for the underground train system, the Metro.
Investigators have so far been unable to identify the gunman, described by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls as “a real danger”.
His motive remains unclear, but police believe he was also behind an incident on Friday in which staff at a Paris television station were threatened by a man carrying a gun.
The attacker, wearing a cap and wielding a 12-gauge shotgun, opened fire at the offices of left-wing newspaper Liberation at about 10:15 am (0915 GMT) Monday.
A 27-year-old photographer arriving for his first day of freelance work at the paper suffered buckshot wounds to the chest and stomach.
He was taken to hospital in a critical condition. The newspaper later said he underwent surgery and was being kept in intensive care.
After fleeing the daily’s offices in the east of Paris, the same man is believed to have crossed the city to the La Defense business district, where he fired several shots outside the main office of the Societe Generale bank, hitting no one.
He then reportedly hijacked a car and forced the driver at gunpoint to drop him off close to the Champs-Elysees in the centre of the French capital, where gun crime is rare.
There were rumours that the man was armed with grenades as well as the hunting-style pump-action shotgun used in the two shootings.
Police said security camera images of the shooter suggested he was the same man who last Friday stormed into the Paris headquarters of TV news channel BFMTV to threaten staff.
In that incident, the gunman pumped his shotgun to empty several cartridges on the floor, while warning a senior editor: “Next time, I will not miss you.”
“Given the similarities in the four incidents, between the modus operandi, the physical appearance and attire of the perpetrator, and also in the ammunition gathered, we believe we are dealing with a single perpetrator,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.
Prosecutors released photographs of the man taken from surveillance camera images and described him as white, aged between 35 and 45, of average height, with salt-and-pepper hair and stubble.
Liberation executive Nicolas Demorand said the shooting in the paper’s entrance hall left staff traumatised.
“When you have someone with a shotgun coming into a newspaper’s offices in a democracy, it is very, very serious, whatever the mental state of the person,” Demorand told AFP.
A commentary in Tuesday’s edition of the paper signed by Demorand is headlined simply: “We will continue”.
The front page reads: “He pulled out a gun and fired twice”, and inside, the daily devotes four pages to the unprecedented attack
An employee describes the moment the gunman walked in.
“The guy pulled out a gun from his bag and fired twice at the first person he saw. It lasted no more than 10 seconds, and anyone of us could have been hit. The shooter said nothing and left immediately,” the staff member was quoted as saying.
A witness to the shooting outside Societe Generale’s headquarters, Francisco Alvarez, told AFP: “I saw this guy with a cap and a shotgun, a pump-action shotgun, in his hand.
“I don’t think he was necessarily targeting anyone, he shot in the air then into a window.”
Philippe Antoine, the editor-in-chief of BFMTV, came face-to-face with the attacker during Friday’s incident and said he had appeared calm and determined.
The man looked at him with “a lot of intensity and determination,” Antoine said. “This was someone who was very precise in his movements, not panicked at all, someone who was in control.”
French President Francois Hollande, speaking during a trip to Jerusalem, warned that the gunman “could still kill tomorrow or at any time”.
Valls said that everything possible would be done to apprehend the shooter.
“This individual is on the run and he represents a real danger. We will do everything we can to arrest him,” he said.