A terrorism investigation has been launched after a French police employee was killed in a knife attack at a police station in Rambouillet, south-west of Paris.
The anti-terrorism branch stepped in to lead the investigation to determine the circumstances of the knife attack by a man unknown to intelligence services.
The attack took place in the secure entrance area of the police station in Rambouillet, 35 miles (56km) from the capital, at around 2.20 pm.
The 49-year-old woman, an administrative assistant who was returning from a lunch break, was stabbed in the throat twice and died of her wounds shortly afterwards. The attacker was fatally wounded when an officer opened fire on him. The murdered woman was the mother of two children aged 13 and 18.
The Tunisian assailant, 36, arrived in France illegally in 2009 but had since obtained residency papers, a police source said, adding that he was unknown to security services. He had just moved to Rambouillet, a middle-class commuter town known for its grandiose former royal parkland estate.
The local prefect said a terrorism investigation was launched for several reasons: because the attacker had carried out a reconnaissance operation to scout out the police station, and because of the method used – a knife attack to the neck – as well as comments that the attacker made while carrying out the attack, which was specifically targeted at police.
The president, Emmanuel Macron, tweeted that France would not give in in its “fight against Islamist terrorism”.
The French prime minister, Jean Castex, said at the scene: “Our determination to fight terrorism is more intact than ever”.
He expressed his support for the department of Yvelines, which stretches west of Paris, and had been the scene of two other terrorist attacks that made headlines in recent years.
In June 2016, a man convicted for terrorist offences and claiming allegiance to Islamic State stabbed a French police commander to death in front of his house outside Paris, then killed his partner who also worked for the police.
Last October, a secondary school teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in Yvelines after he gave a class discussing the magazine Charlie Hebdo, freedom of expression and cartoons of the prophet Mohammad. Police shot dead the 18-year-old attacker of Chechen origin.
One year before the 2022 French presidential election, with polls showing the final round pitting the centrist Macron against the far-right Marine Le Pen, security issues are high on the political agenda and polls show they are a key concern of voters, particularly on the right.
Le Pen told French TV hours after the Rambouillet attack that it was shocking that the assailant had entered France illegally and lived without papers for a decade before obtaining status in France and that all illegal residents should be deported. She said French people currently felt they were “encircled by violence and criminality”.
Macron’s government has introduced legislation to tackle radical Islamist activity in France, a bill that has stirred anger in some Muslim countries.
Several attacks over the last year have reignited concerns about the terrorist threat.
In September, a Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had printed cartoons of the prophet Mohammad. On 29 October, three people were killed when a Tunisian man went on a stabbing spree in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
In the most severe recent attack against French police, three officers and one police employee were stabbed to death in October 2019 by an IT specialist colleague who was himself then shot dead.
France is still reeling from the attacks carried out by Islamist terrorists in 2015 and 2016 that began with the massacre of staff in the offices of Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket in January 2015.
In France’s deadliest peacetime atrocity, 130 people were killed and 350 were wounded when suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Stade de France stadium, bars and restaurants in central Paris and the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015.
In 2016 a man rammed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, killing 86 people.