Ter­ror at­tack foiled

French pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates call for tougher coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts

The Observer (Sarnia) - - WORLD NEWS -

PARIS — Ex­trem­ism con­cerns shook France’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign Tues­day as au­thor­i­ties an­nounced ar­rests in what they said was a thwarted at­tack and can­di­dates urged tougher coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts for a coun­try al­ready un­der a state of emer­gency.

While na­tional se­cu­rity pre­vi­ously has been a strong theme in the cam­paign, far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen hard­ened her tone on for­eign ex­trem­ists and bor­der con­trols in the wake of the ar­rests that came days be­fore the first round of vot­ing.

Cen­trist Em­manuel Macron called for na­tional unity and stronger in­tel­li­gence. Le Pen and Macron are among four lead­ing can­di­dates seen as most likely to progress from Sun­day’s first round and to reach the May 7 runoff be­tween the top two.

As the gov­ern­ment pre­pared to flood streets with more than 50,000 po­lice and sol­diers to safe­guard the bal­lot, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Matthias Fekl said po­lice thwarted an im­mi­nent “ter­ror at­tack,” ar­rest­ing two men in the south­ern port city of Mar­seille.

Both are sus­pected Is­lamic rad­i­cals, ac­cord­ing to the Paris pros­e­cu­tors’ of­fice. It said po­lice seized guns and ex­plo­sives of a type pre­vi­ously used in at­tacks in France and Bel­gium in­spired by Is­lamic State.

Fekl said at a brief news con­fer­ence that the two French men, Mahiedine Mer­abet, 29 and Cle­ment Baur, 23, “in­tended to com­mit an at­tack on French soil in the very short term, which is to say in com­ing days.”

Macron’s cam­paign team said au­thor­i­ties ear­lier pro­vided a photo of the sus­pects to his se­cu­rity de­tail.

Fekl gave no de­tails about po­ten­tial tar­gets or mo­tives.

The pres­i­den­tial election is be­ing watched as a bell­wether for global pop­ulist sen­ti­ment, in large part be­cause of Le Pen’s na­tion­al­ist, an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion po­si­tions.

Be­fore Tues­day’s ar­rests were an­nounced, Le Pen said on RTL ra­dio that she would ex­pel for­eign ex­trem­ists and draft army re­servists to close France’s bor­ders as soon as she takes of­fice.

“We can­not fight the ter­ror­ism that weighs on our coun­try with­out con­trol­ling our bor­ders,” Le Pen said.

With the mea­sures she wants to put in place, she said, the three men who car­ried out the Jan­uary 2015 at­tacks against the Char­lie Hebdo news­pa­per and a kosher su­per­mar­ket would never have ob­tained French ci­ti­zen­ship be­cause they had crim­i­nal records.

“Be­cause they were delin­quents, they would have been ex­pelled from France,” Le Pen said.

Macron struck a tough, but con­cil­ia­tory tone.

He called the ar­rests a re­minder that “the ter­ror­ist threat re­mains very high,” es­pe­cially dur­ing the election cam­paign, and re­it­er­ated calls for pres­sure on In­ter­net com­pa­nies to bet­ter mon­i­tor ex­trem­ism on­line.

But he added that “ter­ror­ism ... is a challenge that calls upon us more than any­thing else to come to­gether, be­cause the ter­ror­ists wish noth­ing more than our di­vi­sion.”

Macron and con­ser­va­tive can­di­date Fran­cois Fil­lon have pledged more ro­bust coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts, but re­main com­mit­ted to Europe’s open bor­ders.

France’s fight against Is­lamic ex­trem­ism has, with jobs and the econ­omy, been one of the main is­sues for the stump­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. Those on the right have been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal, seek­ing to ap­peal to vot­ers trau­ma­tized by Is­lamic State-in­spired at­tacks that have killed at least 235 peo­ple in France.

PHILIPPE WOJAZER/THE

French pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Em­manuel Macron, left, vis­its the Rungis food mar­ket, south of Paris, France, on Tues­day. He said peo­ple must come to­gether af­ter a ter­ror at­tack was thwarted with the ar­rest of two peo­ple.

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