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'A Moment Of Madness': Paris Attacker Identified As Police Employee

The Paris attacker who stabbed four police officers to death was a police employee.

Cops are describing it as a "moment of madness".

The attacker, a 45-year-old IT specialist who had worked in the Paris police force for 16 years, was shot dead during the attack.

He has been named by French media as Mickaël H.

The motives for the attack are not known. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there were no warning signs or red flags.

"On the face of it, he was a model employee," Castaner said.

However, police union officials suggested the attacker may have been involved in a workplace dispute.

Image: EPA

At around 1pm on Thursday local time, Mickaël entered the police headquarters on Île de la Cité, near the Notre Dame cathedral and began stabbing colleagues.

He stabbed three police officers in two offices on the first floor, then stabbed two women on the stairs, reports local media.

Four people were killed and a fifth critically injured.

"We are shocked," his colleague Youssouf told the Le Parisien newspaper.

"Police were running around in panic," another unnamed witness told the paper.

French police and security forces establish a security perimeter near Paris police headquarters. Image: EPA

"I was surprised to hear shooting because this is not a place where you hear that kind of thing. I first thought it was a suicide because there are a lot of those at the moment."

Officers raided Mickaël's home in Gonesse and took his wife into custody.

Neighbours spoke of their shock at Mickaël being behind the attack, describing him as a "very ordinary" man who never seemed aggressive.

"He's someone who does work-house-work," one neighbour said.

A murder investigation has been launched.

Image: EPA

The attack comes one day after 27,000 police officers staged a 'march of anger' over working conditions, low morale and a spike in police suicides.

The police union said 52 police officers have died by suicide this year.

It was the first mass police strike in France since 2001, with officers carrying cardboard coffins and a mannequin dressed in police uniform hanging from a post.

Police officers carry cardboard coffins to bring attention to the 52 cops who have killed themselves this year. Photo: AAP.

Police say they are drained by the weekly yellow vest protests, which have frequently turned violent, as well as increased pressure from senior officers to meet targets.

They also opposed a major overhaul fo the pensions system by French President Emmanuel Macron, which could see some of their perks scrapped.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au