IT worker kills 3 police officers, administrative employee in knife attack at Paris police headquarters

The attacker was a 45-year-old man who had been working at the police headquarters for some 16 years, France's interior minister said.

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By Saphora Smith, Nancy Ing and Margot Haddad

PARIS — A longtime police employee killed three officers and an administrative worker in a knife attack inside Paris police headquarters Thursday before being shot dead by police, French authorities said.

The attacker was a 45-year-old man who had been working in information and technology at the police headquarters for some 16 years, France's minister for the interior, Christophe Castaner, said Thursday.

The assailant, who could not speak or hear, was shot by an officer with a rifle, according to two police sources who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The attacker was identified as Michael Harpon, according to a police and a judicial source close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.

The assailant was from the north-eastern suburb, Gonesse, and had converted to Islam some 18 months ago, according to Christophe Crépin, the spokesperson for the French police union and a high ranking police officer with knowledge of the investigation, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Crépin said Friday that police had not found any evidence when searching the assailant's house that pointed to radical conversion or intent to carry out a terrorist attack. Investigators were looking closely at his work situation and his relationship with his management, Crépin added.

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Crépin initially said the assailant was an administrative police officer, but Castaner later confirmed that he was an IT worker at the police headquarters.

Castaner said the attacker had never shown any sign of distress.

Crépin also said earlier, along with the two anonymous police sources, that four police officers had been killed. But Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz later said that three police officers had been killed as well as an administrative worker.

The victims are a woman and three men, Heitz added. Another person was also injured in the attack.

One of the wounded was in surgery, Castaner said. "So far, this person seems to be in stable condition,” he said at a news conference.

The attack took place between 12:30 and 1 p.m. local time (6.30 and 7 a.m. ET), according to Castaner.

The assailant attacked three police officers with a knife on the first floor of the building before attacking another police officer and a human resources employee on the stairs, according to an internal police document obtained by NBC News.

The IT worker then made his way downstairs where a police officer told him to drop his weapon, the document said. The officer then shot and killed the attacker, it added.

It is not yet known what sparked the attack, and Crépin said it was not being treated as a terror attack. But Crépin and a highly placed judicial source close to the investigation later told NBC News that the national anti-terrorism unit has been assigned to investigate whether terrorism was a motive behind the attack.

Officers searched the attacker's property Thursday, according to the two anonymous police sources. The attacker's wife has been taken into custody for questioning, the prosecutor's office confirmed to NBC News.

The police headquarters is just across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cite, an island in the River Seine.

"Paris is mourning its people this afternoon after this appalling attack," Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted. "The toll is heavy, several police officers have lost their lives."

Saphora Smith reported from London, Nancy Ing and Margot Haddad from Paris.