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Terror investigation launched after police officer stabbed to death in France

"France has lost one of its everyday heroines in a barbaric gesture of infinite cowardice," said French Prime Minister Jean Castex.
Image: Police secure the area where an attacker stabbed a woman, in Rambouillet
A police officer stands guard in the area where an attacker stabbed a female police administrative worker, in Rambouillet, near Paris on Friday.Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

PARIS — A terror investigation has been launched after a knifeman stabbed a female police officer to death in the French town of Rambouillet on Friday, authorities said.

The assailant, identified as a 36-year-old Tunisian national, was immediately “neutralized” by the victim’s fellow officers, who shot him, a police source close to the investigation told NBC News, adding that he died from his injuries. His name was not released.

The victim, aged 49, died from her wounds.

France's National Police named her as Stephanie M. in a tweet, which called her killing "cowardly." As an administrative officer she would not work on the street but in an office.

President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to her on Twitter. "In the fight against Islamist terrorism, we will not give up," he wrote.

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told a news conference that his office took over the probe because the attacker had staked out the station, because of statements he made during the attack and because he targeted a police official.

He did not provide details on the motive.

The source close to the investigation said the assailant cried “Allahu Akbar” when he attacked.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin visited the scene of the attack in the small town to the southwest of Paris known for a grandiose former royal estate.

"France has lost one of its everyday heroines in a barbaric gesture of infinite cowardice," Castex told reporters at the scene. "To her loved ones, I want to express the support of the whole nation. To our security forces, I want to say that I share their emotion and their indignation."

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“Our determination is more intact than ever to fight against terrorism in all its forms,” he said at a subsequent news conference.

France has seen deadly attacks against police in the past, including some by Islamic extremists or Islamist-inspired individuals in recent years. Around 250 people have been killed.

Tackling religious extremism, domestic security and notions of French identity are likely to be important issues in the presidential election next year.

Friday's attack was six months after an Islamist teenager beheaded a schoolteacher in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, another Paris satellite town after he showed students and offensive image of the Prophet Muhammad.

That followed an attack which saw two people stabbed and wounded near the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine where Islamist militants killed 12 people in 2015.

The French capital was also rocked by multiple gun-and-bomb attacks on entertainment sites around the city in November 2015, which left 130 people dead and 368 wounded. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, although two of the 10 known perpetrators were Belgian citizens and three others were French.

Nancy Ing reported from Paris and Henry Austin from London.