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Gunman Kills Eight in Paris Suburb

March 27, 2002

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NANTERRE, France (AP) _ A man opened fire at a city council meeting in a Paris suburb early Wednesday, killing at least eight people and seriously wounding 14 others in what the prime minister called ``a case of furious dementia.″

Police arrested the suspect, described as a 33-year-old who often attended council meetings in the middle-class suburb of Nanterre. The man did not speak during the shooting and did not make any clear statement when he was arrested, officials said.

The attacker used at least two automatic pistols, said rescue worker Laurent Vibert, and about 50 shells were scattered inside the meeting room. Vibert said the suspect was apparently known for strange behavior, and was close to the leftist Green Party.

``It’s apparently a case of furious dementia,″ said Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who rushed to the scene. ``A horrifying tragedy that harms democracy _ a city council meeting in action,″ he said.

President Jacques Chirac, who met with grieving family members, called the events ``a completely unimaginable drama.″

Dozens of police vehicles and more than 100 rescue officials were at the scene. A rescue helicopter took some of the wounded to a nearby hospital. Officials said 30 people were injured in the attack, 14 seriously.

The bloody rampage took place at about 1:15 a.m. as about 40 people attending the meeting were putting on their coats to leave.

``I thought it was a joke at first,″ said Samuel Rijik, a municipal official who was at the meeting. ``Some people thought it was firecrackers.″

``I crawled under my table and a bullet went through my jacket. I thought I was hit.″

Hours after the shooting, weeping family members arrived at the council hall to identify the bodies.

Nanterre Mayor Jacqueline Fraysse said she did not know the attacker. There had been no heated debate at the meeting, which was just ending when he calmly began shooting, she said.

``I ended the session,″ she said. ``A man got up. He had been sitting in the public area. He shot straight in front of him, and then he moved to where the council members were sitting.″

``He said nothing,″ she said. ``It was long. It lasted many minutes.″

LCI television said the gunman had methodically recharged his weapon during the shooting.

Rising crime is at the top of France’s political agenda ahead of presidential elections, which open with a first round next month, and a final vote May 5.

Thousands of police officers held nationwide strikes in December, saying they deserve more pay and better equipment because their jobs have become increasingly risky. The protests started after two officers were shot and killed during an armed robbery in a Paris suburb in October.

In October, a masked gunman opened fire in the central French city of Tours, killing four people.

In an assault in Switzerland last September, a 57-year-old man opened fire with an assault rifle at a meeting of a state legislature, killing 14 people before killing himself with a handgun.

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