French police on Friday fired teargas amid clashes with agitated protesters outside a Kurdish community center in the heart of Paris, where a gunman earlier killed three people and injured four others in an attack with possible racist underpinnings.
All three people killed inside and near the Kurdish Cultural Center Ahmet-Kaya on Rue d’Enghien were Kurds, the center’s lawyer confirmed to CNN.
The suspected attacker, a 69-year-old French man with a long criminal record, has been arrested.
He was not part of any far-right groups monitored by the police, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told journalists at the scene. “He (the suspect) clearly wanted to take it out on foreigners,” Darmanin said.
Clashes with dozens of protesters, mostly from the Kurdish diaspora, broke out during Darmanin’s visit to the site of the attack on Friday.
While the shooting has not been designated a terrorist attack, Paris Prosecutor Laure Beccuau said earlier on Friday that investigators are not ruling out possible “racist motivations” behind the shooting.
“When it comes to racist motivations, of course these elements are part of the investigation that was just launched,” Beccuau said.
French President Emmanuel Macron deplored the “heinous attack” where “the Kurds of France have been the target,” in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“My thoughts to the victims, to the people who are fighting to live, to their families and loved ones. My gratitude to our law enforcement forces for their courage and calmness,” Macron said.
Police in Paris and across France have been ordered to protect Kurdish sites and Turkish diplomatic institutions following the attack, according to Darmanin.
He has also asked the French president and prime minister to allow Kurdish people, who want to hold demonstrations, to do so.
The shooting suspect was released from detention less than two weeks ago as a court is still investigating his previous involvement in violence with a “racist nature,” the Paris prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
He was convicted twice, in 2017 and 2022, for committing gun violence. An investigation was also launched by a Paris court in 2021 for violence “with a racist nature,” according to the statement.
The last incident led to his getting put under pre-trial detention while the court conducts an investigation.
“At this stage, there is no evidence that this man is affiliated with any extremist ideological movement,” the statement said.
Following the incident, crowds gathered near the center, where people of Kurdish descent were heard chanting the Kurdish phrase “Şehid Namirin,” which means: Those who are lost are never really lost but with us, according to CNN’s team on the ground.
Some people were also heard chanting “Murderer Erdogan,” in a reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s robust stance against Kurdish nationalism, and his policies towards Kurdish far-left militant and political groups based in Turkey and Iraq.
In the aftermath of the attack, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his “deepest sympathies” to Kurdish people in France in a post on Twitter. “My thoughts are with the members of the Kurdish community and people of France on this sad day,” Blinken added.
In 2013, three Kurdish political activists were killed in central Paris, including the founding member of the Kurdish Workers’ Party. All three women were shot in the head in the apparent assassination.