A car loaded with gas canisters rammed into a police van on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris on Monday, leaving the driver dead in what the interior minister said was an "attempted attack"."Security forces have been targeted in France once again," Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said, calling the incident an "attempted attack".
According to police sources, a Kalashnikov rifle, handguns and gas bottles were later found in the deceased suspect's vehicle. No bystanders or police were hurt and it was not immediately clear how the driver had died.
Bomb squads were deployed to the scene and the Paris prosecutor’s counter-terrorism unit opened an investigation into what is suspected to be a deliberate act.
Police said the car hit the front of the van as it was overtaking a convoy of police vehicles. Footage recorded shortly afterwards then showed orange smoke billowing from the car.
"People were running every which way," said a 51-year-old bystander who gave his name only as Alexandre. "Some shouted at me to get away."
Reporting from the scene, FRANCE 24’s Alexander Aucott said the area had temporarily been on full lockdown, but that traffic had begun circulating again by Monday afternoon. Alcott said the public were asked to stay away from the area near where the crash took place, however, as forensic teams and sniffer dogs were still searching for evidence.
Police have identified the suspect as a 31-year-old man from a Paris suburb who had previously been flagged for extremism.
France has been on high security alert following a series of militant Islamist attacks in recent years, including the shooting of a policeman in an Islamic State (IS) group-claimed attack on a police bus on the Champs-Élysées in April.
Shortly after his election last month, President Emmanuel Macron said his government would ask parliament to extend wider search and arrest powers granted under a state of emergency called after Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in and around Paris in November 2015.
Some magistrates and human rights groups have protested in recent weeks against the proposal that would enshrine in ordinary law measures currently in place under the state of emergency.