A gunman wielding an assault rifle on Thursday night killed a police officer on Paris’s most iconic boulevard, the Champs-Élysées, stirring France’s worst fears of a terrorist attack, which could tip voting in a hotly contested presidential election that starts on Sunday.
The gunman was shot dead by the police as he tried to flee on foot; two other police officers and a bystander were wounded. The police quickly blocked access to the crowded thoroughfare, lined with restaurants and high-end stores, as a helicopter hovered overhead.
The attack set off panic and a scramble for shelter, and officers began searching for possible accomplices after the attack.
Near midnight, President François Hollande said in an address to the nation that the attack appeared to be an act of terrorism. The Islamic State claimed responsibility in a message posted on a jihadi channel, and the Paris prosecutor said he had opened a terrorism investigation.
The attack came only days before the start of a presidential vote that could reverberate across Europe, and as the 11 candidates were having their final quasi-debate on the France 2 television network.
Analysts have been saying for weeks that an attack just before the first vote, or between the first vote and the runoff on May 7, could tip the election toward a candidate perceived as tougher on crime and terrorism, especially the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who hardened her stand against Muslim immigration in the campaign’s final days, linking it to security fears, or François Fillon, who has pledged to eradicate Islamic terrorism.
“Emotion and solidarity for our forces of order, once again targets,” Ms. Le Pen said after the shooting.
The debate format was one-on-one interviews lasting 15 minutes each, followed by an almost three-minute conclusion, and the presidential candidates quickly posted on Twitter posts about the attack. Those whose interviews were still being broadcast took the opportunity to speak about their security proposals.
Mr. Hollande, who spoke from the Élysée Palace, offered an emotional tribute to the police, whom he said were the country’s first line of defense, and endeavored to reassure a nervous public.
“It has been the case for a number of months, and we will have absolute vigilance when it comes to the elections,” he said, “but everyone will understand that at this hour, my thoughts are with the family of the police who were killed and with those close to the wounded policeman.” (nytimes)