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.

 

UN Security Council warns against holding Iraqi Kurd vote

Syria Kurds vote to cement federal push

Rouhani vows Iran will boost missiles despite US criticism

Yemen leader promises UN to open entire country to aid

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

Saudi cleric banned for saying women have ‘quarter’ brain

Veteran Syrian activist, daughter assassinated in Istanbul

Tunisia drops forced anal exams for homosexuality

Bomb used in Saudi-led strike on Yemen children US-made

Police charge teenager over London Underground attack

Nigerian official to meet Turkish counterpart over illegal guns

Thousands feared trapped in Raqa as IS mounts last stand

Iraqi forces achieve first step in new offensive on IS

Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Black Sea coast leaving four dead, 20 missing

Trump praises 'friend' Erdogan

Russia clashes with EU over Syria

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child