Gun­fire tar­gets Paris po­lice

1 KILLED, 2 WOUNDED ON CHAMPS-EL­Y­SEES ISIS claims at­tack as French elec­tion nears

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES MCAU­LEY AND WIL­LIAM BRANIGIN

paris — A gun­man opened fire on French po­lice Thurs­day on Paris’s best-known boule­vard, killing one of­fi­cer and wound­ing two others be­fore be­ing fa­tally shot him­self in an in­ci­dent that raised the specter of re­newed ter­ror­ism just three days be­fore vot­ers go to the polls to elect a new pres­i­dent.

The Is­lamic State, through its af­fil­i­ated Amaq News Agency, quickly as­serted re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, which sent pan­icked pedes­tri­ans flee­ing into side streets and prompted po­lice to seal off the renowned Champ­sEl­y­sees, close metro sta­tions and or­der tourists back into their ho­tels. The ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion said the at­tack was car­ried out by a Bel­gian na­tional it iden­ti­fied only as Abu Yusuf al-Baljiki, a pseu­do­nym.

There was no im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion that the Is­lamic State was be­hind the shoot­ing. French of­fi­cials de­clined to at­tach a mo­tive to the at­tack, al­though they said po­lice were de­lib­er­ately tar­geted and that they were open­ing a ter­ror­ism investigation.

The in­ci­dent oc­curred three days be­fore France holds the first round of a hotly con­tested pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, with can­di­dates from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum vy­ing to suc­ceed François Hol-

lande as pres­i­dent. Hol­lande sched­uled an emer­gency meet­ing late Thurs­day to dis­cuss the at­tack.

François Fil­lon, one of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, said in a state­ment that the elec­tion cam­paign should be sus­pended. “We must show our sol­i­dar­ity with the po­lice and the French pop­u­la­tion, which is in­creas­ingly wor­ried,” he said. “The fight against Is­lamist to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism must be the top pri­or­ity.”

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Na­tional Front party, wasted no time in us­ing the at­tack as the lat­est ev­i­dence in her call for France to in­ten­sify its fight against “Is­lamist ter­ror­ism.”

By con­trast, Em­manuel Macron, the pop­u­lar in­de­pen­dent can­di­date vy­ing for the pres­i­dency, was quick to ar­gue against any fear­mon­ger­ing. “We must not yield to fear today,” he said Thurs­day. “This is what our as­sailants are wait­ing for, and it’s their trap.”

Ahead of the first round of the vote on Sun­day, Macron is lead­ing Le Pen in the lat­est polls, but by only a small mar­gin. Af­ter Thurs­day’s at­tack, both Fil­lon and Le Pen an­nounced that they would can­cel events planned for Fri­day, the last of­fi­cial day of cam­paign­ing.

There was no im­me­di­ate in­for­ma­tion on the iden­ti­ties of the at­tacker or the po­lice­men who were shot.

Ac­cord­ing to Christophe Crépin, a spokesman for the UNSA Po­lice Union, the gun­man opened fire on the po­lice with an AK-47 as­sault ri­fle, tar­get­ing of­fi­cers who were near a Marks and Spencer store on the cor­ner of the busy av­enue.

Po­lice or­dered peo­ple away from the area, and at least three metro sta­tions were closed, the In­te­rior Min­istry said.

A Euro­pean se­cu­rity of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Post that the dead at­tacker was known to French in­tel­li­gence, hav­ing pre­vi­ously come to au­thor­i­ties’ at­ten­tion be­cause of rad­i­cal Is­lamist links.

One French of­fi­cial said in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­cov­ered an ID card on the shooter and were await­ing the re­sults of fin­ger­prints.

François Molins, the Paris prose­cu­tor who spoke at an im­promptu news con­fer­ence late Thurs­day, con­firmed that “the iden­tity of the at­tacker is known” and said that “in­ves­ti­ga­tions are un­der­way with searches to find out whether he ben­e­fited from col­lab­o­ra­tors.”

Po­lice were search­ing the home of the sus­pect, in Seine-et-Marne out­side Paris.

The French In­te­rior Min­istry said one po­lice of­fi­cer was killed on the spot and two others were “se­ri­ously wounded” when the gun­man opened fire on a po­lice car. The min­istry said se­cu­rity forces gunned down the at­tacker as he tried to flee on foot.

A spokes­woman for the Paris po­lice, Jo­hanna Primev­ert, said the gun­man at­tacked po­lice guard­ing an area near the Franklin Roo­sevelt metro sta­tion at 8:50 p.m. Thurs­day Paris time at the cen­ter of the heav­ily trav­eled Champs-El­y­sees.

She said the at­tacker ap­peared to act alone, but other of­fi­cials said it was too soon to tell whether he might have had an ac­com­plice.

The Reuters news agency re­ported that po­lice is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for a sec­ond sus­pect who they said had ar­rived in France by train from Belgium.

In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Pierre-Henry Bran­det told France’s BFM tele­vi­sion that the gun­man got out of a car that pulled up be­side a po­lice ve­hi­cle and opened fire on the po­lice of­fi­cers.

“It’s too early to say what’s be­hind this, but clearly po­lice were the tar­get,” he said. “We don’t know yet what his mo­ti­va­tions were.” There were con­flict­ing re­ports about whether an­other per­son was in the gun­man’s car.

In Wash­ing­ton, Pres­i­dent Trump said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with the vis­it­ing Ital­ian prime min­is­ter that the Paris shoot­ing “looks like an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack,” and he of­fered con­do­lences to France.

“Again it’s hap­pen­ing, it seems,” Trump said. “I just saw it as I was walk­ing in. . . . That’s a very, very ter­ri­ble thing that’s go­ing on in the world today. But it looks like an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack. And what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong and we have to be vig­i­lant, and I’ve been say­ing it for a long time.”

The coun­try has been hit by a deadly wave of ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence in the past two years that has claimed the lives of at least 230 peo­ple and in­jured hundreds of others.

Thurs­day’s shoot­ing — on the most fa­mous boule­vard in the French cap­i­tal, al­ways crowded with tourists and com­muters — came just two days af­ter au­thor­i­ties ar­rested two men in the south­ern city of Mar­seille on sus­pi­cion of plot­ting what Paris pros­e­cu­tors de­scribed as an “im­mi­nent” and “vi­o­lent” as­sault. Po­lice dis­cov­ered an Is­lamic State flag and three kilo­grams (6.6 pounds) of ex­plo­sives in one sus­pect’s home.

The Is­lamic State has as­serted re­spon­si­bil­ity for pre­vi­ous at­tacks in France, in­clud­ing a co­or­di­nated Novem­ber 2015 ter­ror­ist as­sault on mul­ti­ple tar­gets in Paris that left 130 peo­ple dead and more than 360 wounded.

Af­ter that at­tack and others in the past two years — many per­pe­trated by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants or those claim­ing to be in­spired by the ex­trem­ist group — ter­ror­ism and na­tional se­cu­rity have be­come cru­cial is­sues in the most con­tentious elec­tion France has seen in decades.

Le Pen, the far-right pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, has cam­paigned heav­ily on an anti-im­mi­grant plat­form and what she has couched as the need to de­fend France from “Is­lamist globalization.” In the fi­nal days of the cam­paign, she said she would halt im­mi­gra­tion al­to­gether if elected pres­i­dent.

The shoot­ing oc­curred in the mid­dle of a tele­vised cam­paign event, when each of the 11 cur­rent can­di­dates was given 15 min­utes to sell vot­ers on their re­spec­tive plat­forms. Branigin re­ported from Wash­ing­ton. Souad Mekhen­net in Frank­furt, Ger­many, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

CHRIS­TIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS

Po­lice swarm the French cap­i­tal’s bustling Champs-El­y­sees on Thurs­day evening af­ter a gun­man opened fire on po­lice of­fi­cers near the Franklin Roo­sevelt metro sta­tion, send­ing pedes­tri­ans run­ning for cover. The at­tacker was killed by au­thor­i­ties as he tried to flee on foot.

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