PARIS – Visitors to the Louvre learned by loudspeaker announcement of Friday’s attempted attack on the Paris museum and there was no panic, witnesses said, though some children cried as guards directed people to sit tight together and away from windows.
A French soldier shot and wounded a man armed with a machete and carrying two bags on his back as he tried to enter the world-renowned museum in what the government said appeared to have been a terrorist attack.
The man, who police said had shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) as he rushed towards the museum, remains alive but seriously wounded. His bags contained no explosives.
“[The announcement] came over the loudspeakers that are dotted around,” said Paul Lecher, 68, a retired Parisian and frequent Louvre visitor.
“Everything happened calmly,” he told Reuters. “It was just a case of listening … People quickly understood, even those who didn’t understand a word of French, that something unusual was happening.”
The Louvre, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” ancient Egyptian artifacts and countless other treasures, is a major attraction for visitors to Paris.
Housed in a former royal palace on the banks of the river Seine, the museum welcomed 7.3 million visitors last year, or over 23,000 people a day based on its six-day working week.
Visitors were kept inside for a time after the attempted attack.
“There were announcements, then the security guards started running all over the place and after a short period they started gathering everybody up and getting them to one side of the building,” said Lance Manus, 71, from Albany, New York.
Manus and his wife Wendy said security guards made people sit tightly together, away from the windows, and that some children were crying.
“We sat there for over an hour waiting and finally they said we are going to evacuate… as we exited the police were searching and checking everybody.”
Asked by reporters if they had been scared, Manus said: “We come from the U.S., we have our scares just like you have.”
France has been hit by a series of militant Islamist attacks over the past two years in which more than 230 people have been killed. The soldier who fired at the machete-wielding man was from one of the patrolling groups that have become a common sight around Paris since a state of emergency was declared across France in November 2015. It remains in force.
Around lunchtime in Paris, a notice on the Louvre’s website said it remained closed to visitors.