A group of University of Georgia students were in the area of a suspected terror attack near the Louvre museum in Paris Friday morning, according to published reports.
The students were in the shopping area in the lower floor of the Louvre when a knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu akbar” attacked French soldiers on patrol. The soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker and then opened fire, shooting him five times, according to the Associated Press.
UGA student Cassandra Bolt told CBS News she and her friends were among dozens corralled into a lower floor until police gave them the all-clear to leave.
“A lady told us to evacuate because there was a terrorist attempt,” Bolt told CBS News. “I was really nervous. They led us downstairs and we waited there for like two hours. I heard no gunshots but I heard a lot of police sirens.”
Another UGA student, Taylor Walstrum, told CBS News they were in the room with the Mona Lisa painting when there was a loud announcement followed by “lots of frantic movement” by museum staff, who rushed everyone down into a basement room.
UGA executive director for strategic marketing Jan Gleason, told the Macon Telegraph that the “University of Georgia students were escorted to safety and are all accounted for.” Gleason told the Telegraph the UGA students were in the study abroad program and were on personal travel at the museum at the time of the attack.
The attack at an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the museum sowed panic and again highlighted the threat French officials say hangs over the country, which was hit repeatedly by extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016.
A police union official said the attacker was carrying two backpacks and had two machetes. He said the man launched himself at the soldiers when they told him that he couldn’t bring his bags into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall underneath the world-famous museum where the “Mona Lisa” hangs and which went into emergency lock-down.
“That’s when he got the knife out and that’s when he tried to stab the soldier,” said the official, Yves Lefebvre.
The four soldiers first tried to fight off the attacker before opening fire, said Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the military force that patrols Paris and its major tourist attractions. President Francois Hollande praised the troops’ “courage and determination.”
Anti-terrorism prosecutors took charge of the investigation. There were no immediate details about the identity of the attacker. “Allahu akbar” is the Arabic phrase for “God is great.”