Soldiers thwart machete attack near Louvre, tourists held in lockdown

Paris was plunged into panic Friday — again — when soldiers guarding the Louvre Museum shot an attacker who lunged at them with a machete and shouted “Allahu Akbar!" as the historic landmark went into lockdown.

A French prosecutor said the attacker is believed to be a 29-year-old Egyptian who was living in the United Arab Emirates, but his identity has not been formally confirmed yet.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said at a news conference Friday night that the French soldiers' quick reactions put an end to "a terror attack."

"Everything shows that the assailant was very determined," he said.

The attacker, who was shot by the soldiers, is in a life-threatening condition in a hospital, he said.

The man had no identity papers but investigators used his cellphone to find out that he was a resident in the United Arab Emirates who came to Paris on a tourist visa on Jan. 26, according to Molins. Two days later he bought two military machetes at a gun store in Paris.

Police carried out raids near the tree-lined Champs-Elysees linked to the attack, which came two months after authorities carried out a special anti-terrorism exercise around the Louvre.

Friday's attack targeted an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the sprawling museum, a medieval former royal palace now home to the “Mona Lisa” and hundreds of other masterpieces.

The 1,200 people inside the Louvre — one of the world's biggest tourist attractions — were first shuttled into windowless rooms as part of a special security protocol before being evacuated.

The museum in central Paris remained closed for the rest of Friday but will reopen on Saturday, Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay told reporters.

French President Francois Hollande, at a news conference in Malta, where he was attending a European Union summit, said that while the Louvre incident was quickly contained, the overall threat to France remains. He said the incident showed the need for the increased security patrols deployed around France since attacks in 2015.

Police union official Yves Lefebvre said the Louvre attacker was carrying two backpacks and had two machetes. Lefebvre said the man lunged at the soldiers when they told him he couldn't bring his bags into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall.

"That's when he got the knife out and that's when he tried to stab the soldier," Lefebvre said.

The four soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker before opening fire, said Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the military force that patrols Paris and its major tourist attractions.

The military patrols — numbering about 3,500 soldiers in the Paris area — were deployed following the January 2015 attacks on Paris' satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and were reinforced after the November 2015 bomb-and-gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city's Bataclan concert hall and other sites.

Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux praised the soldiers, saying "to wear a uniform, as we can see in the propaganda of those who want to attack us, is to be a target."

One soldier was slightly injured in the scalp, officials said. Another soldier opened fire, gravely wounding the attacker in the stomach, said police chief Michel Cadot. "He is conscious and he was moving."

Checks of the man's two backpacks found they didn't contain explosives, Cadot said. He said a second person who was "acting suspiciously" also was arrested but appeared not to have been linked to the attack.

Restaurant worker Sanae Hadraoui, 32, was waiting for breakfast at a McDonald's in the Louvre's restaurant complex when she heard the first gunshot, followed by another and then a couple more.

"I hear a shot. Then a second shot. Then maybe two more. I hear people screaming, 'Evacuate! Evacuate!'" she said. "They told us to evacuate. I told my colleagues at the McDonald's. We went downstairs and then took the emergency exit."

Parisian Makram Chokri, who was shopping in the mall, described hearing a "boom, boom, boom over a few seconds. ... We thought it was an exercise at first but you know, you have a lot of scenarios going through your mind."

Police sealed off mall entrances near the Louvre and closed the area to vehicles, snarling traffic in Paris. Confused tourists were shooed away.

Lance Manus, a tourist from Albany, N.Y., described young girls crying in panic, and had immediate thoughts of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

"That's what we're used to now," he said. "I mean we have to learn to live with it, be vigilant. So we listen to instructions from the security guards and do what they told us."

Eric Grau, a high school teacher chaperoning a group of 52 students, said: "We were in one of the galleries and a voice came through the loudspeakers to alert us, saying there was an alert." He said the group was taken to safety in the African art gallery.

The attack came hours before the city unveiled its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Paris is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles for the games, which it hasn't hosted since 1924.

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UPDATES:

12:40 p.m: This article was updated with new information about the identity of the attacker.

7:40 a.m.: This article was updated with details about the Louvre’s operating hours.

5:10 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional quotes from the scene.

2:35 a.m.: The article was updated with additional details of the attack.

This article was originally published at 1:45 a.m.

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