Paris, April 21 (IANS) A police officer was killed and two others were severely injured when a gunman opened fire on police on Paris’s iconic Elysees boulevard in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, three days before the first round of French presidential election.
The attacker, identified as French national Karim Cheurfi, was later killed by police during the Thursday night shootout, the Guardian reported.
Known to French security services, Cheurfi had served nearly 15 years in prison after being convicted of three attempted murders, two against police officers, and was released on parole in 2015.
On Thursday night, the attacker stepped out from a car with an automatic rifle and opened fire on a police van outside a Marks & Spencer store on the Champs Élysées in central Paris.
Police later found a pump-action shotgun, knives and a Quran in his vehicle, while a handwritten note praising IS was recovered from near the dead assailant, police sources told local media.
The gunman was shot dead by police in the van while he was trying to flee the scene on foot. A statement from the IS propaganda agency, Amaq, said the attack was carried out by an “Islamic State fighter”.
Police officers raided his home in an eastern suburb of Paris and detained three members of his family for questioning.
The shooting came just three days before the first round of the country’s presidential election.
Security was heightened across the country in the run-up to Sunday’s election.
President François Hollande scheduled an emergency meeting following the attack and said the attack was “terrorist in nature”.
US President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that the attack would have a “big effect” on the election, adding: “The people of France will not take much more of this.”
But Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government had reviewed its extensive election security measures and was “fully mobilised” in the wake of the attack.
He appealed for national unity and for people “not to succumb to fear”.
Cazeneuve said after a meeting of France’s security council on Friday: “Barbarity and cowardice struck Paris last night, as they also recently struck elsewhere in Europe in Berlin, Stockholm, in London. The whole of Europe is targeted, because it represents the values and ideals of peace”.
He said more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers would be on duty for Sunday’s first-round vote in the two-stage election, and nothing could be allowed to “hamper this democratic moment”.
The Islamic State said the attack was carried out by “Abu Yousuf al-Baljiki” (the Belgian).
However, Belgian Interior Ministry spokesman Olivier Van Raemdonck said the attacker was not Belgian and that there did not appear to be a Belgian connection to the incident.
Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon had earlier told local public broadcaster VRT that the assailant was a French national.
The attack dramatically changed the course of the French presidential campaign’s final hours. The three main candidates — far-right candidate Marine le Pen, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and former conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon — cancelled planned campaign events following the shooting.