A DEAF and mute IT worker in the Paris police prefecture is alleged to have killed four colleagues with a kitchen knife before he was shot dead.

The 45-year-old man was accused of having entered the headquarters next door to Notre Dame Cathedral with a ceramic knife before launching into his bloody rampage during a “moment of madness”.

Witnesses described scenes of panic, with many people fleeing the building in tears. The area in the île de la Cité was sealed off.

The suspect was said to be a computer technician in the intelligence section of the prefecture. He had worked there since 2003 and was considered a model employee.

The alleged attacker, who reports suggest had converted to Islam 18 months ago, stabbed multiple people before being shot dead by a police officer after he ran into a courtyard.

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The policeman, who was taking a break on duty, shouted three times for the attacker to stop before opening fire twice, it has been reported.

HeraldScotland:

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said he was “in constant contact” with anti-terrorism investigators about the case but that for the moment it was being handled by his office.

The knifeman’s fifth victim - also a woman - was reportedly rushed to hospital seriously wounded.

Police searched the home of the suspect in a quiet residence in Gonesse, a low-income suburb north of Paris, and took his wife into custody.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the assailant had “never shown any behavioural problems”.

The police were “particularly stricken by this exceptionally grave incident”, said Mr Castaner.

There was no official word on the motive for the attack, but police union leader Jean-Marc Bailleul said it wasn’t terror, telling BFM TV: “It was a moment of madness.”

Other union officials suggested the suspect may have been involved in a workplace dispute.

There were tensions between the suspect and his supervisor, according to police union official Christophe Crepin.

“I do not think this is a terrorist act,” Mr Crepin, who knew the suspect, told Franceinfo Radio.

Loic Travers, another union official, said he was unaware of any problems that could have pushed the “ordinary administrator” to kill his colleagues.

“There is a chaotic atmosphere in the prefecture … obviously it’s shocking. The colleagues who saw what happened will be marked by this for the rest of their careers.”

The suspect, who was born in the French Caribbean territory of Martinique, is said to have gone into the building and straight to his office where he began attacking colleagues with a knife.

A kitchen knife was used to stab the three policemen in their offices before tjhe assailant went on to attack the female employee on the staircase.

An eye witness to the attack, which happened just after 1pm, yesterday said: “I saw a man with a knife in his hand.

“He was running after a policeman. He was told to drop his knife, but he did not stop and the policeman fired.

“At first I thought it was a training exercise, but no. The policeman, who was on a break, shouted out three warnings, but the assailant would not stop. The police officer fired two shots and then the assailant fell.”

Christophe Crépin, the spokesman for the France-Police-Policiers en colère group, said the killings appeared to be a “hierarchical tragedy” and that the alleged attacker had problems with the woman in charge of his service.

HeraldScotland:

The attack came a day after police went on strike across France over increasing violence towards officers.

Police unions say there have been more than 50 suicides by police officers since the start of the year.

They blame the rising numbers on difficult working conditions and increasing violence towards police.

READ MORE: One dead and four injured in Paris ‘terror’ attack

President Emmanuel Macron went to the prefecture with prime minister Edouard Philippe and the Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz. Mr Macron wanted “to show his support and solidarity for all the staff,” the Élysée said.

“The toll is heavy. Several policemen have lost their lives. In my name and in the name of Parisians, my first thoughts go to the families of the victims,” mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted. She said it was the force’s worst loss of life on a single day since World War II.

French police have been targeted by extremists several times in recent years. In 2017, a gunman opened fire on the Champs-Élysées in central Paris, killing one officer before he was shot dead.

In 2016, an attack inspired by Islamic State killed a police officer and his partner, an administrator, in front of their child at their home outside Paris.