Portuguese police officers stand guard in front of the Ismaili Islamic centre in Lisbon
Portuguese police officers stand guard in front of the Ismaili Islamic centre in Lisbon AFP

A knife-armed attacker killed two women on Tuesday at an Islamic centre in the Portuguese capital Lisbon before being shot and wounded by police, authorities said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said it was "premature to make any interpretation of this criminal act."

"Everything points to this being an isolated incident," he told reporters.

Armed police wearing bullet-proof vests stood outside the entrance to the Ismaili Muslim centre located in a landscaped park in northern Lisbon.

Officers were called to the centre just before 11 am (1000 GMT) where they encountered a man "armed with a large knife", a police statement said.

"Orders were given to the attacker to cease the attack, which he disobeyed, advancing towards the police, knife in hand," it added.

"Faced with the serious and ongoing threat, the policemen used firearms against the person, hitting and neutralising the aggressor."

While police initially said there were "several" wounded, the head of Portugal's Ismaili community, Rahim Firozali, said one person was hurt in addition to the two women who were killed.

"The armed man attacked three people who were at the Ismaili centre, killing two of them and injuring a third," he said in a statement said.

At the time of the attack, classes and "other activities which normally take place there were underway," he added.

The attacker was taken to hospital where he was under police guard, officials said.

"We know that he was an Afghan, a refugee, who for some reason invaded the centre," the head of the Ismaili community in Lisbon, Nazim Ahmad, told private TV channel SIC.

The two women who were killed were both employees of the centre, he added.

The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, generally known as the Ismailis, belong to the Shia branch of Islam, according to their website.

The Ismaili Muslims are a "culturally diverse community" of around 15 million people living in over 25 countries around the world, it says.

Prince Karim Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Ismailis, opened the Lisbon centre in 1998. It has exhibition spaces, classrooms and prayer halls.

There are around 7,000 Ismaili Muslims living in Portugal, a nation of around 10 million people.

Many fled to Portugal from Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony during the African country's civil war which ended in 1992.