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.


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