Paris: Art lovers returned to the Louvre in Paris on Saturday, 24 hours after soldiers outside the museum shot and seriously wounded a machete-wielding attacker, whose condition stabilized overnight.
The incident on Friday thrust security and the terror threat back into the limelight three months before elections in France, with authorities saying it was a “terrorist” assault.
It also risked dealing another blow to Paris’ lucrative tourism industry which has been badly affected by a string of attacks since 2015.
By Saturday morning, a crowd had gathered outside the museum’s main entrance as the doors re-opened to visitors at 09:30am.”I’m quite worried about coming today, but as we weren’t able to visit yesterday we decided to come back,” 28-year-old Russian visitor Elena Lordugen told.
As usual, soldiers with machine guns could be seen patrolling nearby with museum security staff carrying out routine bag checks. Ali Tali, a Turkish tourist in his 40s, shrugged off their presence. “We’re used these security measures in Turkey,” he said.
Investigators say the attacker, who was carrying two machetes and wearing a black T-shirt with a skull design, lunged at four soldiers shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”).
One of soldiers, who was struck on the head, was slightly injured and a second soldier opened fire, hitting the assailant in the stomach and leaving him “seriously wounded,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late Friday.
Held at a Paris hospital overnight, the suspect’s condition stabilized and by Saturday morning it was “no longer life-threatening”, a source close to the case said Saturday. But he was not yet well enough to communicate with investigators.
Based on his phone and visa records, he is thought to be a 29-year-old Egyptian national living in the United Arab Emirates who entered France legally on a flight from Dubai on January 26.
Investigators believe he rented an expensive apartment near the Champs Elysees, sources close to the case told.
They are examining the Twitter account of an Egyptian named Abdallah El Hamahmy after around a dozen messages were posted in Arabic just minutes before to the attack.
“In the name of Allah … for our brothers in Syria and fighters across the world,” he wrote, before referring to the Islamic State jihadist group in another tweet a minute later.
Speaking to media in Cairo, retired police general Reda El Hamahmy said he believed the wounded suspect was his son, Abdallah, who was in Paris on a business trip. He said there were no signs his son had been radicalized.
The government of the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, condemned the “hateful crime” and assured France of its “full solidarity”.
President Francois Hollande said that “there is little doubt as to the terrorist nature of this act,” an assessment echoed by Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
Over the past two years, France has suffered a string of terror attacks and has been under a state of emergency since November 2015.
During that period, the Louvre, a former palace in the heart of the city, has seen annual visitor numbers fall to 7.3 million, a drop of around two million.