French police arrest Paris shooting suspect

French Interior Minister Valls and Flaesch, director of the Paris judiciary police, attend a news conference in Paris
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French Interior Minister Manuel Valls (L) and Christian Flaesch, director of the Paris judiciary police, attend a news conference at the headquarters of the Paris police November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) - French police have arrested a man they suspect shot a newspaper employee and fired at a bank this week, saying he had been jailed in the 1990s for his role in another Paris shootout that killed three policemen.

Abdelhakim Dekhar, 48, was arrested late on Wednesday in a semi-conscious state in a parked car in a Paris suburb, Interior Minister Manuel Valls told a news conference on Thursday. He appeared to have attempted suicide, Valls said.

The arrest came after a massive manhunt for a gunman who entered the Paris office of the left-wing newspaper Liberation and shot and seriously wounded a 23-year-old photographer's assistant.

About 90 minutes later, he fired into the lobby of the headquarters of Societe Generale bank. The gunman then forced a driver to take him to the Champs-Elysees boulevard after which he melted into the crowd.

Police were able to identify Dekhar using DNA traces left behind on spent cartridges and in the car he used to get to the central Paris boulevard.

Dekhar was sentenced to four years' jail for buying a gun used by a couple of suspected anarchist militants in a shootout with police in Paris in 1994.

He claimed at the time to be an agent of the Algerian security forces and denied any involvement in the incident, which became known as the "Rey-Maupin affair" after the couple.

Police were unable to question Dekhar immediately because he was believed to have taken heavy medication. He was taken to hospital.

"Everything suggests that he tried to commit suicide," said Valls, adding that the motive for the shootings was unknown.

Valls said Dekhar had left a letter. He did not elaborate, but French TV news channel BFM reported that it mentioned Syria and Libya.

The minister said Dekhar had probably moved abroad after his release from prison in 1998. His former lawyer said she believed he had gone to Britain, where his sister lived.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Henri-Pierre Andre; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Robin Pomeroy)