ISIS claims Paris attack that left policeman dead

The Islamic State militant group has said that one of its 'fighters' had carried out the shooting in Paris's Champs Elysees yesterday evening

Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after the shooting incident in Paris, France
Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after the shooting incident in Paris, France

The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for a shooting in Paris which killed one police officer and injured two others, just days before a presidential election.

A known terror suspect, 39-year-old Frenchman Karim Cheurfi, opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police van on Paris's Champs Elysees at 9:00pm. After killing the officer and injuring his colleagues just a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe, the gunman was shot dead in return fire while trying to flee on foot, police sources told AFP news agency.

Police found a pump-action shotgun, knives and a Quran in the vehicle, while a handwritten note praising Isis was later recovered near the dead attacker, police sources told local media.

Media reported that 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. He was arrested again in February on suspicion of plotting to kill officers but was released because of lack of evidence. 

The wide avenue that leads away from the Arc de Triomphe had been crowded with Parisians and tourists enjoying a spring evening, but police quickly cleared the area, which remained empty well into the night of all but heavily armed security forces and police vehicles.

A police arrest warrant issued earlier on Thursday, which was seen by Reuters after the attack, warned of a dangerous individual who had come into France by train from Belgium on Thursday. It was unclear if that man was the attacker or linked to the shooting.

A statement from the Islamic State group published by its propaganda agency Amaq said the attacker was "one of the Islamic State's fighters".

Isis named the attacker as Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki, or “the Belgian”, but it was not clear if the statement referred to Cheurfi. The Belgian interior minister, Jan Jambon, said he was “certainly not the guy who committed the crime yesterday ... The guy who yesterday did the act was not a Belgian. He was French.”

A Belgian national sought earlier by Belgian police and thought to have travelled to France on Thursday turned himself in to police in Antwerp, a French interior ministry spokesman, Henri Brandet, said earlier on Friday.

A source close to the French investigation said the 35-year-old Belgian man, described as “very dangerous”, had been sought by his country’s police as part of a separate investigation. Hours before the Paris assault, Belgian police reportedly found weapons, balaclavas and a ticket for a train trip to France departing on Thursday morning.

Belgian prosecutors said the man handed himself in “after he saw himself appear on social media as terror suspect No 1”, but that he had nothing to do with the attack. The Belgian justice minister, Koen Geens, said on Friday the government had “no information at this moment about Belgian links”.

France has lived under a state of emergency since 2015 and has suffered a spate of Islamist militant attacks mostly perpetrated by young men who grew up in France and Belgium and that have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.

The impact of Thursday’s incident on the outcome of the French election is unclear, with the first round of the poll taking place on Sunday, but far-right leader Marine Le Pen, her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon cancelled campaign events planned for Friday.

Up until now, surveys showed voters more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this would change in the event of violence.

French President Francois Hollande promised "absolute vigilance, particularly with regard to the electoral process" and paid tribute to the police.

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”.

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”.

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