ISIS-Claimed Attack in Paris Mars Final Days of Campaigning Ahead of Sunday's Election

by FAYçAL BENHASSAIN April 21, 2017

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) claimed responsibility for the killing of a policeman in Paris' Champs Elysées Thursday night, adding to concerns that terrorists may try to disrupt the first round of France's presidential election on Sunday.

A man stopped his car near a police vehicle parked on the capital's most famous boulevard and opened fire with an automatic firearm, killing one police officer and wounding two seriously.

The attacker was fatally shot as he ran down the road, government officials said.

The DGSI, the French homeland security division, is heading an inquiry into the shooting, together with the anti-terror department of the Paris police.

The man's identity has yet to be confirmed by authorities, but an ISIS-affiliated news agency said the terrorist group was responsible.

President François Hollande in a statement stressed the importance of the state of emergency - first imposed after the deadly ISIS terror attack in Paris in Nov. 2015 and extended by lawmakers several times since then.

Hollande praised the police, voiced condolences to the family of the police officer killed, and said the French people could count on the state to insure their security in the best way possible.

Candidates in the race to succeed Hollande also presented their condolences to the family of the slain police officer, using the opportunity provided by their last appearances on television before the campaign officially ends on Friday.

Under French law, no media appearances may take place or opinion polls conducted between the final Friday of the campaign and voting, which always falls on a Sunday.

The candidates were advised earlier to reinforce their security procedures, after police arrested two young Frenchmen suspected of planning to carry out an attack.

"The two radicalized men, born in 1987 and 1993, of French nationality, intended to commit an attack on French soil in the very near future, in the next few days" Interior Minister Mathias Fekl told reporters.

The suspects are being interrogated by anti-terrorist judges in Paris in a bid to determine the target and date of the planned attack.

They were arrested after investigators intercepted an online video in which the two, named as Mahiedine Merabet and Clement Baur, pledged allegiance to ISIS.

A search of their rented apartment netted weapons and explosives, as well as French newspapers devoted to the elections.

Merabet and Baur had a history of drug trafficking and although from different regions of the country had been incarcerated in the same jail in the north of France. That is where they became acquainted and after their release in 2015 police began monitoring them as they were considered to have become radicalized.

All of the presidential candidates congratulated the police forces, and security was raised increasingly during their final campaign events, having been seldom mentioned earlier on.

Fekl said early this week that more than 50,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers will be deployed across the country, both on Sunday for the first round of voting, and then again on May 7 when the two top-scoring candidates in the first round hold a runoff.

"Everything has been put in place to ensure the security of this big event for our democracy and our republic and security forces are mobilized everywhere across the country to ensure the security of French people during the elections" Fekl said.

The latest opinion poll gives independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and the populist National Front leader Marine Le Pen the lead, with 24 and 22.5 percent of the votes respectively.

A little further behind is Républicains' candidate François Fillon at 19.5 percent, followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the leftist movement Rebellious France, at 18.5 percent. Other candidates are all below ten percent.

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