First Published: 2017-04-21

French policeman killed in IS attack in Paris
Sources say Champs Elysees attacker is 39-year-old French man, known to anti-terror police.
Middle East Online

Days before presidential election

PARIS - A known terror suspect shot dead a French policeman and wounded two others Thursday on Paris's Champs Elysees in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group days before a presidential election.

Observers had long feared bloodshed ahead of Sunday's vote in France following a string of atrocities since 2015 and the violence is likely to thrust security to the front of voters' minds.

The shooter opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police van on the world-famous boulevard at around 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), prompting tourists and visitors to run for their lives.

After killing the officer and injuring 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, police sources said.

A statement from the Islamic State group published by its propaganda agency Amaq said the attacker was "one of the Islamic State's fighters".

The killer, identified as a 39-year-old French man, was known to anti-terror police, sources said, and raids took place at his address in a suburb to the east of Paris.

He was arrested in February on suspicion of plotting to kill officers but was 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.

The impact on the outcome of the French election is unclear -- Sunday is the poll's first round -- but far-right leader Marine Le Pen, her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon cancelled campaign events planned for Friday.

Up until now, surveys showed voters more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this would change in the event of violence.

French President Francois Hollande promised "absolute vigilance, particularly with regard to the electoral process" and paid tribute to the police.

Hollande, who said he was convinced the shooting was a "terrorist act", cancelled a trip to Bretagne and will chair a security cabinet meeting Friday.

- Security in campaign -

Anti-immigration contender Le Pen earlier welcomed security moving to the heart of the campaign as she took part in a prime-time interview show alongside 10 other presidential candidates.

"We are suffering the consequences of a laxity that has continued for years," she said shortly before the shooting, promising to take a hard line against extremists and anyone suspected of being an Islamist.

For weeks, former banker Macron and Le Pen have been out in front but opinion polls now show there is a chance that any of four leading candidates could reach the election's second-round runoff on May 7.

Conservative candidate Fillon and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon have closed the gap substantially in the last two weeks.

"The first responsibility of the president is to protect," Macron said on the interview show. "This threat will be part of our daily lives in the next years."

Fillon, who penned a pre-election book called "Beating Islamic Totalitarianism", declared that "the fight against terrorism must be the absolute priority of the next president".

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".

US Vice President Mike Pence told business leaders during an official visit to Indonesia that the Paris assault was "the latest reminder that terrorism can strike anywhere at any time".

- State of emergency -

The bustling Champs Elysees lies in the heart of Paris and is lined with shops and restaurants. It was immediately blocked by armed officers after the attack and nearby metro stations were closed.

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

A spokesman for the interior ministry paid tribute to the fast reflexes of police at the scene who managed to kill the gunman and prevent further bloodshed on a busy spring-time evening.

A foreign tourist was slightly wounded in her knee by shrapnel during the shooting.

France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of terror alert, with jihadist-inspired assaults killing more than 230 people in recent years.

The Charlie Hebdo magazine was hit in January 2015, sites around Paris including the Bataclan concert hall were targeted in November the same year, and families at a fireworks display in Nice in July 2016.

Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs Elysees or other potential targets, including government buildings and religious sites.


Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting