PARIS – French authorities opened a terrorism investigation and detained three people after a police official was stabbed to death inside a police station outside Paris. Officers shot and killed the attacker at the scene Friday, authorities said.
The attack stunned the quiet residential neighborhood near the famed historic chateau of Rambouillet, and prompted renewed French government promises to fight extremism and protect police.
Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told reporters that his office took over the probe because the attacker had staked out the station ahead of time, because of statements he made during the attack, and because he targeted a police official.
Ricard did not provide details on the attacker's identity, motive or purported terrorist ties. His national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into murder of a person of public authority in relation with a terrorist group.
French media reports identified the attacker as a 37-year-old French resident with no criminal record or record of radicalization. A French judicial official said the suspect was born in Tunisia and that witnesses heard him say “Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great,” during the attack. The judicial official was not authorized to be publicly named speaking about an ongoing investigation.
Police searched the attacker’s home, also in Rambouillet, and detained three people in his entourage, according to the official.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex rushed to the scene with other officials and pledged the government's “determination to fight terrorism in all its forms." Islamic extremists and others have carried out multiple terror attacks in France recent years, including several targeting police.
The official killed Friday was a 49-year-old administrative employee who worked for the national police service, a national police spokesperson told The Associated Press. Police only released her first name, Stephanie.
She had left the station briefly to extend the time on her parking space, and was attacked in the entry passage as she returned, said Valerie Pecresse, president of the Paris region.
“Police are symbols of the republic. They are France,” Pecresse told reporters at the scene, adding: “The face of France” was targeted.
The attack took place southwest of Paris just inside the police station in the town of Rambouillet, about 750 meters (yards) from a former royal chateau that is sometimes used for international peace negotiations.
Security cordons ringed the area after the stabbing. Masked police employees clustered outside the station, while uniformed officers in bulletproof vests stood watch around the neighborhood.
“There is a sort of well-known signature on this attack, an attack with a knife, on the throat, against a woman police officer in a police building,” Francois Bersani, a police union official at the scene, told The AP.
The prime minister noted that the surrounding Yvelines region has seen two particularly brutal Islamic extremist attacks on public servants in recent years: last year’s beheading of a teacher by a Chechen extremist, and the 2016 fatal stabbing of a police couple in their home by a Frenchman who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Friday's attack came as President Emmanuel Macron’s government is toughening its security policies amid voter concerns about crime and complaints from police that they face increasing danger. The shift comes as France prepares for regional elections in June in which security is a big issue, and for a presidential election next year in which Macron's main challenger could be far-right leader Marine Le Pen, if he seeks a second term.
Charlton reported from Paris. Oleg Cetinic in Rambouillet contributed.