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Published on : Saturday, February 4, 2017
Visitors were preparing to file into the world’s most famous museum on Friday morning when a man with a machete lunged at a soldier patrolling outside the entrance and was shot five times.
The perpetrator yelled “Allahu Akbar” during the attack in an underground shopping centre leading to the entrance, and Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it was “terrorist in nature”.
Kara Qiu, a Chinese student visiting from London, said he was shocked.
“I had been warned to be careful of pickpockets or thieves in Paris but it had never occurred to me that a terrorist attack could be on its way,” the 23-year-old said.
The allure of Paris, the fabled “City of Light”, has dimmed since 2015 when a series of jihadist attacks began in France that have claimed more than 230 lives.
In the most devastating case, gunmen from the Islamic State group killed 130 people in Paris, spraying gunfire at bars, restaurants and a music hall and detonating suicide vests outside the Stade de France national stadium.
The group said it was revenge for French military action against its members.
Visitor numbers to Paris have dropped, with the Louvre reflecting that trend.
Over the last two years, they have plummeted by about two million, putting its claim to be the most visited museum in the world in danger. Around 7.3 million still passed through its doors in 2016.
The timing of the attack was unfortunate for Paris city authorities, who on Friday formally submitted their bid dossier to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Maxime Grazie, 48, an Italian coach driver who ferries tourists between European cities, told AFP he feared the attack at such a prime tourist location would make visitors think twice before coming to Paris.
“I think that this event will have a negative impact on tourism,” he said, speaking near the Louvre where ranks of armed police had replaced the normal crowd of tourists.
“Since the last terrorist attacks in Paris, there have been fewer Chinese tourists,” he added.
“This has happened just as tourism was starting to get some colour back into its cheeks,” said Christophe Laure, who heads the luxury sector at the UMIH hotel trade body.
Bookings at top-end hotels have been particularly affected in the past year, but were thought to have picked up last month.
Jean-Pierre Mas, head of the main French travel agents’ federation, took comfort from the swift reaction of the security forces.
“The man has been arrested which proves that the security forces are doing their job,” he said. “I don’t think it will have a big impact on the image of France.”
In 2015, when the bloodshed began, 85 million foreign visitors came to France.
The figures for 2016 have not yet been released, but security forces already on high alert are likely to step up patrols in an attempt to reassure visitors.
Authorities dread a large-scale attack during the presidential election campaign that is in full swing.
Three years ago, French tourism chiefs set a target of attracting 100 million visitors a year to the country by 2020.
Tags: Louvre Museum