Paris shooting: Election campaign halts as investigation gathers pace
PARIS (CNN) — The French presidential election campaign was stopped in its tracks on Friday after a deadly attack on a police bus on the Champs-Elysees in the heart of Paris.
The attacker — named by the Paris prosecutor’s office as Karim Cheurfi — killed one police officer and badly injured two others in the attack at around 9 p.m. local time on Thursday. A second man, suspected of being linked to the shooting, surrendered himself in Belgium.
ISIS claimed that the attack — days before the first round of voting and just as candidates were taking part in a TV debate — was carried out by one of its “fighters,” whom it called “the Belgian.”
French media reported Cheurfi was on the radar of intelligence services. But a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor, Agnes Thibault Lecuivre, said he was not on the official “Fiche S” surveillance list, which tracks individuals suspected of being radicalized.
Police on Friday arrested three relatives of Cheurfi, who was shot dead by police at the scene of the attack.
Attack came days before first round of voting in presidential election. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen calls for closure of all Islamist mosques. Rival François Fillon calls for unity and says France is “at war” against terror. ISIS names a man it claims was involved in the attack.
On its media channel, Amaq, ISIS claimed that the attack was carried out by “Abu Yousuf al-Baljiki (the Belgian) and he is one of the Islamic State’s fighters.” It was not clear whether ISIS was referring to the man who surrendered himself in Antwerp.
Three leading presidential candidates, François Fillon, Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen, halted campaigning after the shooting, which came three days before French voters go to the polls.
Security in Paris has been stepped up in recent days, but the presence of 50,000 police officers on the streets was not enough to prevent the latest assault, which a source tells CNN is being treated as an act of terror.
French President François Hollande convened a meeting of the country’s defense council Friday.
Election campaigning paused
Coming shortly before France votes in the first round of its presidential election Sunday, the shooting puts national security, terrorism and immigration at the heart of an already divisive campaign.
With polls indicating a record number of voters remain undecided, analysts say the shooting could play into the narrative pushed by the far-right.
By Friday morning, Fillon, Macron and Le Pen had all canceled campaign events. Macron cited the extra burden policing political rallies placed on the security services.
At a televised news conference Friday, Le Pen called for the closure of all Islamist mosques in France, the expulsion of hate preachers and the reinstatement of French borders.
People on the French security services’ watch list for radicalization should also be expelled from France and have their French citizenship taken away, she said.
Speaking a short time afterward, Fillon said that if elected he would focus on the destruction of ISIS.
“In times such as these we have to demonstrate that France is united,” he said. “We also have to be clear that we are in a state of emergency. We are at war. This fight for freedom and for the security of the French people must be the priority of the next five-year term.”
Left-wing insurgent Jean-Luc Mélenchon warned against allowing panic to “interrupt democracy.”
The attack unfolded on the Champs-Elysees around 9 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) when a car stopped in front of a police van, according to French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henry Brandet.
A man emerged from the car and opened fire on the van with an “automatic weapon,” killing one officer instantly, Brandet said. The man “then ran away, managing to shoot and wound two other policemen. Other policemen engaged and shot and killed the attacker,” he added.
The dead officer was 30, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said. One of the wounded officers was critically injured but is improving, he said. Also wounded was a female tourist.
The shooting has not officially been declared a terrorist act but anti-terrorist forces are leading the investigation, French President Hollande said.
Molins said he would reveal the shooter’s identity in a press conference Friday, adding that officers were searching the man’s residence in Chelles in the Paris suburb of Seine-et-Marne.
The source close to the investigation said the man had a long criminal record. He shot two officers in 2001 after being stopped by a police, according to the source. He was taken into custody but while being questioned grabbed another officer’s gun and shot him three times, the source added. He was convicted in that attack and had a criminal record because of involvement in violent robberies.
Earlier this week French authorities arrested two men in Marseille who were allegedly planning an attack in a run-up to the election.
World leaders react
Speaking in Indonesia Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the attack was just the latest reminder “that terrorism can strike anywhere at any time.”
Quoting President Donald Trump, Pence said “we have to be strong, and we have to be vigilant.”
Trump himself weighed in at a news conference in Washington following the attack. “What can you say? It never ends,” the President said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences to Hollande and said her sympathy “goes out to the victims and their families,” according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also spoke to Hollande. In a statement, the UK government said it “strongly condemns the appalling terrorist attack in Paris.”
France has been in a state of emergency since the 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead. Parliament voted in December to extend the extraordinary provisions to ensure the protection of upcoming presidential and general elections.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the extent to which French intelligence authorities were monitoring Karim Cheurfi before the attack.