The killing of a policeman in Champs Elysees shopping venue in central Paris claimed by ISIS rocked France’s presidential race Friday as the authorities said security forces were fully mobilized to thwart any possible attack.
Emerging from an emergency meeting of security officials, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced a full mobilization of security forces, including elite units, to back up 50,000 police already earmarked to ensure citizens’ safety during the election.
A gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police van at around 9:00 pm on Thursday. After killing the officer and injuring two of his colleagues just a few hundred meters from the Arc de Triomphe, the gunman was shot dead in return fire.
A statement by ISIS’ propaganda agency Amaq said the attacker was one of its “fighters”, identifying him as “Abu Youssef the Belgian”. But French authorities said the perpetrator was a 39-year-old Frenchman living in the Paris suburbs.
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 told AFP. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Campaigning and the publication of voter surveys are banned from midnight on Friday until polling stations close. Sunday’s round of voting will be followed by a second-round runoff on May 7 between the top two candidates.