French counter-terrorism unit investigates attack on Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France

The coordination unit will be based at the Elysee palace and operational 24 hours a day.

Among the tourists taking shelter inside Notre Dame was Nancy Soderberg, a former White House deputy national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations. She tweeted a photo from inside as the events outside unfolded.

The counterterrorism office of the Paris prosecutor's office announced it had opened a probe into the incident.

The assailant wounded one officer before he was shot and wounded by other officers.

Though he used a hammer during the attack, the suspect, identified as an Algerian student, was also reportedly armed with knives as well.

In April, an officer was killed after an attacker open fired on a police van at Champs Elysees.

"A person came up behind the police officers, armed with a hammer, and started to hit the police officer", he said.

Karine Dalle, a spokeswoman for the Paris diocese, told BFM TV 900 people were still inside the cathedral as police secured the area.

The attack caused panic among visitors in the area. Two auxiliary bishops were present as well, she said, and were reassuring the crowd.

"It was really frightening", Soderberg said by phone.

Notre Dame is one of the most-visited monuments in Europe, with an estimated 13.6 million visitors a year.

Police spokeswoman Johanna Primevert tells The Associated Press that the intervention is over.

Paris police added that "the perpetrator has been neutralized" and is now in the hospital.

Paris remains under high security after Islamic extremist attacks in recent years, including several targeting police officers and security personnel. The square in front of the cathedral was evacuated.

The University of Lorraine's president, Pierre Mutzenhardt, said the man was enrolled as one of its students and had been working since 2014 on a thesis about North African media.

Authorities are investigating the incident as a terrorist attack, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports. The spokesperson was not authorized to be publicly named.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the assailant shouted "this was for Syria" and seemed to have acted alone.

Police warned the public to stay away from the landmark, according to Reuters. A police official would not provide further information.

It stands on the eastern end of the Ile de la Cite, built on the ruins of two earlier churches.

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