First Published: 2017-04-21

Fears engulf French election after Paris shooting
Presidential candidate Macron warns against any attempts to use attack for political gain while Le Pen calls for France to "immediately" take back control of its own borders from EU.
Middle East Online

France has been under a state of emergency for nearly a year and a half

PARIS - The killing of a policeman on Paris's Champs Elysees claimed by the Islamic State group rocked France's presidential race Friday with just two days to go before one of the closest races in recent memory.

Bloodshed had long been feared ahead of Sunday's first round of voting after a string of jihadist atrocities since 2015, and shooting on the world-renowned boulevard forced security to the top of the agenda in the campaign.

Three of the four frontrunners -- far-right leader Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative Francois Fillon -- called off campaign events planned for Friday in the wake of the attack.

Le Pen, widely seen as taking the hardest line on security, called for France to "immediately" take back control of its own borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist.

"This war against us is ceaseless and merciless," she said in a sternly worded address, blasting the "monstrous totalitarian ideology" behind Thursday night's attack by a 39-year-old Frenchman known for his links to jihadists.

Macron, a 39-year-old moderate whom other candidates have portrayed as too inexperienced to protect France against the terror threat, warned against any attempts to use the attack for political gain.

"I think we must one and all have a spirit of responsibility at this extreme time and not give in to panic and not allow it to be exploited, which some might try to do," he told French radio.

- Islamic State claim -

The gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police van at around 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Thursday, sending tourists and visitors running for their lives.

After killing the officer and injuring two of his colleagues just a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe, the gunman was shot dead in return fire while trying to flee on foot.

A statement by IS's propaganda agency Amaq said the attacker was one of its "fighters", identifying him as "Abu Yussef the Belgian".

But French authorities said the perpetrator was a 39-year-old Frenchman living in the Paris suburbs, whose name they did not release.

The IS claim raised initial concerns that a possible second attacker could be on the loose.

On Friday, French authorities said a suspect sought by Belgium police, who was suspected of having planned to travel to France on Thursday, had handed himself in at a police station in the Belgian city of Antwerp.

French interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said it was "too early to say" if the man was linked to Thursday night's shooting.

During a search of his home, Belgian police found weapons, balaclavas and a train ticket for France leaving Thursday morning.

The killer identified by French authorities was known to anti-terror police, sources said. He had been arrested in February on suspicion of plotting to kill police officers but released because of lack of evidence.

He had been convicted in 2005 of three counts of attempted murder, with two of these against police officers, sources said. Three people from his entourage were being questioned by police.

- Priorities could change -

The impact on the election is unclear.

Until now, surveys showed voters more concerned about unemployment and the economy than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this could change in the event of violence.

Two radicalised men were arrested in the southern city of Marseille on Tuesday and authorities believe they had been trying to launch an "imminent" attack on the campaign.

Macron and Le Pen had long led the presidential campaign but it has tightened in recent weeks and polls indicate that any two of the four frontrunners, including hard-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon, could reach the second round on May 7.

Thursday's deadly attack, the first in France since a priest was killed last July, comes after a series of attacks in Europe in the last month, targeting a Stockholm department store, the British parliament in London and the underground train system in Saint Petersburg.

As the first details of the attack filtered through, US President Donald Trump said that "it looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It just never ends".

- High-profile target -

Shop owners and restaurant managers on the bustling Champs Elysees, in the heart of Paris, described the chaotic scenes that followed the attack.

"We had to hide our customers in the basement," Choukri Chouanine, manager of a restaurant near the site of the shooting, said, addiing there was "lots of gunfire".

A foreign tourist was slightly wounded during the shooting.

France has been under a state of emergency for nearly a year and a half, with more than 230 people killed in jihadist attacks since the start of 2015.

The offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine were hit in January 2015, IS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people at sites around Paris in November that year, and a Tunisian man rammed a truck through crowds in Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people.

 

Qataris to do hajj on Saudi king expenses

Veteran crisis manager Ouyahia recalled as Algeria PM

Saudi Arabia, Iraq draw closer with wary eye on Iran

Iran’s Karroubi on hunger strike over 6-year house arrest

Civilians stay on frontlines despite dangers in Raqa

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land

Turkey arrests 9 more journalists for alleged ‘Gulen links’

Saudi Arabia to restart work on Grand Mosque expansion

Algeria reshuffles cabinet, nominates three new ministers

Syria rebels lose heavyweight faction

ICC orders Mali ex-jihadist pay 2.7 m euros for Timbuktu destruction

Libya seeks to ‘organise’ NGOs carrying migrant rescue Ops

More than one million South Sudan refugees in Uganda

Beirut, Damascus pledge to boost economic ties

Two killed on Gaza-Egypt border

Fire breaks out at UNESCO heritage site in Saudi Arabia

Iran military chief in Turkey for talks on Syrian war

Saudi Electricity announces $1.75b in international loans

Israel to strip Jazeera journalist of press credentials

Bahrain state media accuses Qatar of trying to topple regime

Iran's Khamenei blasts US over Charlottesville

Libyan forces snub ICC over warrant for commander

Iran’s detained opposition leader starts hunger strike

Arab fighters struggle to make impact in battle for Raqa

IS suicide bombers kill seven Iraqi security personnel

Lebanon repeals 'marry your rapist' law

Qatar’s sovereign fund plans new investments despite sanctions

Turkey asks Germany to investigate 'top coup fugitive' sightings

Iran laments ‘hypocritical’ US religious freedom report

No single pattern in radicalisation of foreign fighters, says Tunisian study

Turkey tells Iraqi Kurds that referendum risks ‘civil war’