France’s most famous boulevard was still busy with thousands of Parisians and tourists on Thursday evening when a non-descript old Audi pulled up alongside a police van.
At 9pm, the sun had just set and the fashionable boutiques of the Champs Elysees were beginning to put up their shutters, as the neighbouring restaurants and bars were just starting to liven up.
The grey car slipped in behind a police van parked close to a Marks and Spencer, around 300 yards from the magnificent Arc de Triomphe.
Once parked, the man, dressed all in black, calmly walked towards the van as if he was about to ask one of the Gendarmes inside for help.
But rather than ask for directions, he pulled out a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and began firing at the vehicle, witnesses recalled.
One witness, who only gave his name as Chelloug, told the Reuters news agency: “There was a police van and the guy came in an Audi A80, an old grey Audi.
“He parked just behind the van and he got out with a Kalashnikov, and I heard six gunshots. I thought they were firecrackers, because we all looked around the road and there was no-one.
“In fact, he was hidden behind the van and shooting at the police. I think he hit a policeman. As soon as the policeman opened the door of the van, he fell, I think.”
After firing a handful of shots hitting several police officers, the suspect turned and fled on foot.
Chelloug went on: “As soon as we saw that, we all ran back inside the Alain Affelou shop. We hid and I went up to the first floor and we saw them (police officers) shoot him (the gunman).
“It was a terrorist. He came out with a Kalashnikov and started shooting, but he could’ve shot us on the pavement and killed more people with a spray of shots – but he targeted the policemen, and fortunately there were the policemen who killed him.”
Another witness, identified only as Cyril, told reporters: “I was on the corner beside Marks and Spencer and Zara, waiting in my car for a friend, 10 or 15 metres from a police van. I saw a man all in black approaching the van as if he was asking for information, and he took out a Kalashnikov and fired, with his right hand.”
The sound of gunfire in a country that has seen more than 200 killed in Islamist terror attacks in the past two years sparked immediate pandemonium.
One restauranteur near the scene of the shooting, who would give his name as Denis, told local television that people had hidden in his restaurant.
He said: “They were scared. They didn’t know what to do, or when it would end
“Some of them were in shock, others were crying.”
Badi Ftaiti, a Tunisian-born mason who has spent three decades in Paris, said people “were running, running….Some were crying. There were tens, maybe even hundreds of them.”
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