French police on Friday fired tear gas during clashes with agitated protesters outside a Kurdish community center in the heart of Paris, where a gunman had earlier killed three people and wounded four others in an attack with possible racist underpinnings.
All three people killed inside and near the Ahmet-Kaya Kurdish cultural center on rue d’Enghien were Kurds, the center’s lawyer confirmed to CNN.
The alleged attacker, a 69-year-old Frenchman with a long criminal record, was arrested.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told local journalists that he does not belong to any right-wing extremist group that is being monitored by the police. “He (the suspect) clearly wanted to take it out on foreigners,” Darmanin said.
“At the moment, no elements can tell us if the attack is specifically targeting Kurds,” he added.
During Darmanin’s visit to the site of the attack on Friday, clashes erupted with dozens of protesters, mostly from the Kurdish diaspora.
While the shooting was not ruled a terrorist attack, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said earlier Friday that investigators were not ruling out possible “racial motives” behind the shooting.
“When it comes to racist motives, of course those elements are part of the investigation that’s just started,” Beccuau said.
French President Emmanuel Macron deplored the “heinous attack” in which “the Kurds of France were targeted” in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“The Kurds of France were the target of a vile attack in the heart of Paris. My thoughts go to the victims, the people fighting for their lives, their families and loved ones. My thanks go to our law enforcement forces for their courage and calm,” Macron said.
According to Darmanin, police in Paris and across France were ordered to protect Kurdish sites and Turkey’s diplomatic institutions after the attack.
He has also asked the French President and Prime Minister to allow Kurds who want to hold demonstrations to do so.
Paris counter-terrorism prosecutors are “evaluating” the facts of Friday’s shooting in the 10th arrondissement, but the investigation is still being led by the city’s judicial authorities, counter-terrorism prosecutors told CNN on Friday.
“We evaluate the facts to know whether the event qualifies as an act of terrorism,” said the prosecutor.
The suspect in the shooting was released from custody less than two weeks ago as a court is still investigating his past involvement in violent crimes “of a racist nature,” Paris prosecutors said in a statement.
He was convicted of gun violence twice, in 2017 and 2022. According to the statement, an investigation into violence “of a racist nature” was also launched by a Paris court in 2021.
The latest incident resulted in his being remanded in custody while the court investigates.
“At this time there is no evidence that this man is associated with any extremist ideological movement,” the statement said.
After the incident, crowds gathered near the center, where people of Kurdish descent chanted the Kurdish phrase “Şehid Namirin,” meaning He who is lost is never really lost, except with us, according to the CNN team on the ground.
Some people were also heard chanting “Murder Erdogan,” in a nod to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s robust stance against Kurdish nationalism and his policies toward militant Kurdish extremists and political groups based in Turkey and Iraq.