paris attack
Police quickly sealed off the area. / COURTESY

French police shot and injured a man who attacked an officer with a hammer outside Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral Tuesday, as he shouted “this is for Syria”.

Police sources said the officer sustained minor neck injuries in the assault, which comes with France on high alert after jihadists killed seven people in London on Saturday.

Documents found on the attacker identified him as a 40-year-old Algerian who was a doctoral student in information science at a university in the east of France.

The suspect later claimed to be a “soldier of the caliphate” of the Islamic State group, according to a source close to the investigation.

PARIS ATTACK
Notre dame is one of the most visited spots in Paris. / COURTESY

The policeman’s colleague opened fire on the man, hitting him in the chest in panicked scenes around the Gothic cathedral that is one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

The man lay bleeding on the ground as police sealed off the area and searched for possible accomplices.

About an hour after the attack he was taken to hospital and police declared the situation to be under control.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the man, who was also carrying kitchen knives, had shouted “this is for Syria” as he lunged at the officer.

Anti-terrorist prosecutors were put in charge of the investigation.

A witness told AFP he heard someone “shout very loudly”.

“Then there was a crowd surge and people panicked. I heard two shots and saw a man lying on the ground in a pool of blood,” he said.

On Tuesday evening a group of 15 heavily armed elite police officers searched student accommodation in the suburbs of Paris, where the suspect rented a studio, an AFP journalist said.

A tenant of the building described him as “very quiet”.

paris attack
Police sealed off the area. / COURTESY

The suspect’s thesis director at the University of Lorraine, where he enrolled in 2014, said the doctoral student showed “no outward sign of an excessive adherence to Islam.”

“When I knew him, he had a pro-Western, pro-democratic outlook,” Arnaud Mercier, who said he had not heard from the suspect since November, told the French television chain BFMTV.

Notre Dame, which is situated on the banks of the Seine river in the heart of Paris, draws 13 million visitors a year.

Over 1,000 people were inside the cathedral at the time of the attack.

Authorities in Paris asked the public to stay away from the area.