Thwarted ter­ror at­tack alarms vot­ers ahead of election

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JOHN LE­ICES­TER AND LORI HINNANT

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. Ms. Le Pen and Mr. 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 French men in the south­ern port city of Mar­seille.

Both are sus­pected Is­lamic rad­i­cals, ac­cord­ing to Paris pros­e­cu­tor Fran­cois Molins.

Po­lice seized guns and ex­plo­sives from the apart­ment the men were leaving when they were ar­rested, Mr. Molins said. The ex­plo­sives found are of a type used in pre­vi­ous at­tacks in France and Bel­gium that were in­spired by the Is­lamic State group.

It was un­clear whether a cam­paign event was a po­ten­tial tar­get for the at­tack. Mr. Molins said in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not de­ter­mined “the day, the tar­gets and the ex­act cir­cum­stances” of the sus­pects’ plans.

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

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

In a writ­ten state­ment Tues­day, Ms. Le Pen pointed to “a dev­as­tat­ing mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of at­tacks and threats of at­tacks” in France which she said was the re­sult of “Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism” that “has ex­panded ex­po­nen­tially” in the last decade in the coun­try.

“It’s time to put back France in or­der,” she said, us­ing one of her cam­paign’s mantras.

Be­fore Tues­day’s ar­rests were an­nounced, Ms. 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,” she said.

The cen­trist Mr. 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.”

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

“Democ­racy must not get on its knees in front of the threats and in­tim­i­da­tions from ter­ror­ists,” Mr. Fil­lon said in a writ­ten state­ment. “The cam­paign must con­tinue un­til the end.”

Far-left can­di­date Jean-Luc Me­len­chon sug­gested his three main ri­vals — Mr. Fil­lon, Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Macron — could have been po­ten­tial tar­gets of the two sus­pects in Mar­seille. He ex­pressed sol­i­dar­ity with his fel­low pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls.

“We will never make the gift to crim­i­nals to di­vide in front of them. We are not afraid,” Mr. Me­len­chon said dur­ing a rally in Di­jon.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

French pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Em­manuel Macron,(sec­ond left) speaks with butch­ers south of Paris on Tues­day. Mr. Macron, an in­de­pen­dent cen­trist with pro-busi­ness, proEuro­pean views, is among the front-run­ners in France’s un­pre­dictable race.

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