Police surrounded a supermarket in southern France on Friday as a deadly hostage-taking situation played out after an attack on police officers. Witnesses told French media that a man holding people in the store claimed he was loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
BFMTV said four French police from Marseilles first came under fire from at least one gunman in a vehicle in the town of Carcassone. The car then proceeded several miles east to Trebes, where a suspect went into a “Super U” store, taking a number of shoppers hostage.
France’s Interior Ministry confirmed that two people were killed in the store, and the situation was ongoing.
Not long after the standoff at the grocery store began. officials told French television that most, if not all of the civilians who had been trapped inside the store were out safely. The gunman was said to be inside the store, possibly along with a police officer.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the information available suggested it “seems to be a terrorist act.”
One officer shot in Carcassone was seriously wounded.
BFMTV said, according to a witness, that the the hostage-taker declared himself, “a soldier of the Islamic State,” and the mayor of Trebes told another channel that the suspect had entered the store screaming, “Allahu Akbar, (God is the greatest) I’ll kill you all.”
According to BFMTV and other outlets, the suspect had been identified by French law enforcement and was known to them. Media reports said the gunman, believed to be of Moroccan descent, was demanding the release of, the only surviving member of the group accused of attacking a concert venue and other locations in Paris in the November 2015 attacks which left 130 people dead. French officials have not confirmed that the suspect has made any demands.
Abdeslam was recently transported back to Belgium to face charges there. He is believed to have provided key logistical support for the Paris attackers, and may have either decided not to blow himself up and abandoned an explosive vest, or had it malfunction on him. As CBS News Radio correspondent Elaine Cobbe reports, as the lone surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, Abdeslam has become something of a poster boy for ISIS supporters.
As CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, the French police were unlikely to spend much time trying to talk down a suspected terrorist, so while the incident remained officially underway, it was unlikely to drag on for long.
France’s elite counterterrorism police were responding to the situation and several helicopters were flying overhead. Witnesses said hundreds of officers had swarmed the area, which was being cordoned off.
Since January 2015 France has suffered a spate of jihadist attacks that have claimed more than 240 lives in total, according to the BBC. Five people remain in custody after an apparent failed bombing attempt in a chic Paris neighborhood in October, and that same month ISIS claimed a deadly stabbing in Marseille by a man who used multiple aliases. His motives remain unclear, and ISIS has often claimed responsibility for attacks in which it had no direct role.
Palmer reported that, if as it appeared, Friday’s attack was the work of a lone gunman, it may not alter the national level of alert in France.
President Trump was briefed on the incident, but “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan reported that the White House had not yet determined whether it was part of a broader ISIS plot, or the work of a single actor. Once French officials provide the name or names of the suspects to their U.S. counterparts they will be run through U.S. databases to see if they match any American intelligence files. Brennan said the U.S. government was likely to offer its assistance.