Attacks rattle France days before election

Safya Khan-Ruf - 21 04 17

A policeman was shot dead and two wounded in Paris last Thursday night, only days before the first round of the French presidential elections. The shooting incident was an apparent Islamic State (IS)-inspired terror attack by a French national, Karim Cheurfi, who was under investigation for terrorism.

The 39-year-old attacker fired an automatic weapon into a van full of police officers parked on the Champs Élysées, killing one officer, and injuring two others before he was shot dead by police. Pierre-Henry Brandet, from the French interior ministry, said the wounded police officers’ lives were no longer in danger.

According to AFP, the Islamic State claimed the gunman was known as Abu Yussef “the Belgian” and claimed responsibility for the attack in their propaganda agency Amaq. The news agency also reported that the attacker had been jailed in 2005 for the attempted murder of three police officers  and was under investigation by anti-terrorist officers.

François Hollande, the French president, said the Champs Élysées attack was “terrorist in nature” and that there would be “utmost vigilance” to ensure security around the presidential elections.

This comes days after police halted an “imminent and violent” attack by two men, who were arrested last Tuesday with explosives and weapons in their flats.

François Molins, the Paris prosecutor said an Islamic State flag and jihadist propaganda had been found in one suspect’s home, while the other had links to a Belgian cell. The men met in 2015 while in prison for petty crime, according to Molins.

The two French nationals, Clément B, 23, and Mehiedine M, 29, were detained in Marseille. Matthias Fekl, the French Interior Minister, did not confirm the target to journalists but said the men were “suspected of wanting to imminently commit a violent act on the eve of the French presidential election.” He added that 50,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers would be deployed for each stage of the election.

Courtesy of Mout1234/Flickr

France has been under a state of emergency for nearly two years after a series of extremist attacks that have claimed around 230 lives since 2015.  With the first round of elections on 23 April, the terror attacks have become a major political development in an already tense election and have dragged the agenda to security, immigration and national identity.

The latest attack happened three days before the first round of elections and during a prime time TV debate between the 11 official presidential candidates which suggests the extremists are seeking to influence the tone and outcome of the election.

As they learned of the attack on air, the candidates emphasized their promises to protect the French and fight extremism.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the fight against terrorism had to be the absolute priority for the next French president and called for immediate control of France’s borders and deportations of all foreigners on a terror watch list – this is despite the fact that the attacks were perpetrated by French-born extremists.

Courtesy of Stephen H/Flickr

Another leading contender, right-wing François Fillon, proposed arresting all suspects on the same watch list as the gunman. Fillon said this morning: “We are at war, there is no alternative, it’s us or them.”

The two candidates, along with independent centrist Emmanuel Macron have cancelled visits on Friday, the last day of campaigning.

Macron warned that the attacks shouldn’t be used 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.

Leading the polls are the two outsiders: Le Pen, who has promised to hold a referendum on France’s EU membership, and Macron, who has never held elected office.

But the French election race is very tight and both Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon are close behind in polling forecasts.

There is a good probability that the political parties that have ruled France since the end of World War 2 – the traditional centre-right and centre-left – will not stand in the final run-offs. With an estimated one-third of voters still undecided, any two of the four main contenders could get through to the second run-offs on 7 May. The recent attacks could play into the narrative pushed by the far-right.


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