Fear gripped the French media world last night after the government warned that a gunman who attacked the left-wing newspaper Libération is likely to strike again.
The man, dressed in a khaki parka and dark cap, burst into the newspaper's reception area in eastern Paris yesterday and fired at least two fragmentation bullets from a pump-action rifle, gravely wounding a young photographer. The same gunman, a short-haired or shaven-headed "European" in his 40's, is believed to have threatened staff at the news channel BFM TV last Friday.
An hour after the shooting at Libération, a man of the same description fired random shots at the headquarters of the bank Société Générale in the La Défense office district just west of Paris proper. A few minutes later a car was hijacked at gunpoint nearby and then abandoned on the Avenue des Champs Elysées, near the Arc de Triomphe.
Police said last night that they were looking for a single suspect for all three incidents.
Throughout the afternoon and evening teams of heavily armed police combed the streets around the busiest thoroughfare in the French capital. A helicopter circled low overhead. Police cars drove slowly up and down the Champs Elysees to allow officers to scan the faces of passers-by.
In-mid afternoon, there was an alert at the Maison de la Radio, the home of the state radio channels on the right bank of the Seine. It was reported that the gunman might be approaching. All staff were ordered to go to their offices. The alert came to nothing.
Hazy pictures of the presumed gunman, taken by security cameras, were published this evening. They showed a beefy-looking, white man with short hair or a shaven head, wearing a khaki parka, dark glasses and light blue jeans.
The interior minister, Manuel Valls, said that the Libération entrance hall had been turned into a "war scene which has no place in a democracy". He warned that it was likely that the gunman would try to strike at the media again.
"This is an attack not just on Libération but on on all French journalists and all French people. There can be no tolerance for people who attack fundamental liberties," he said.
A 27 years old freelance photographer, who was helping to put together a Christmas special for the newspaper's weekend magazine, was struck at point blank range in the back and shoulder. He was said to be "critically ill" last night after emergency operations at the La Pitié Salpètriere hospital.
Lionel, who works in the Libération computer department, described the attack on the newspaper's Facebook page. "There was blood everywhere and cartridges on the floor," he said. "I started to give first aid to the victim… I had to keep him from losing consciousness. He had been struck by a fragmentation bullet, as big as a thumb, fired at point-blank range. It went into his back and came out by his left breast."
Nicolas Demorand, Libération's publisher, said that newspaper had no security at its front entrance because it did not want to "work behind a bullet-proof screen". Libération, founded 40 years ago by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre amongst others, is a left-wing daily newspaper aimed chiefly at the young. Its front page today was devoted to a new plan to combat poverty in troubled multi-racial suburbs.