PARIS, France, April 21, 2016 – When terror attacks, wherever you are in the world, it is the police, military, and fire department first responders that rush into the fray to stop the “bad guys” and protect the people.
The peace of Paris was shattered on Thursday night, when outside the Champs-Élysées, an assault rifle-wielding gunman killed a police officer wounding .
As a helicopter hovered over the area, police blocked access to the crowded thoroughfare, lined with restaurants and exclusive stores. Paris presecutor, François Molins, confirmed that that shortly before 9 p.m. Paris time, a car pulled up to a police vehicle that was parked in front of a Marks & Spencer store.
A gunman jumped out and opened fire on the vehicle, killing an officer. Two others were also wounded. The gunman then tried to flee while firing at other officers but was quickly killed by the police.
The killing took place just days before Parisians begin voting in a highly contested presidential election that has far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her stand against Muslim immigration into Paris in the lead. Analysts have said that an attack such as this just suffered could tip the election toward Le Pen and her tough on crime and terrorism policies.
She has hardened her stand against Muslim immigration in the campaign’s final days, linking it to security fears.
“Emotion and solidarity for our forces of order, once again targets,” Ms. Le Pen said after the shooting.
Mr. Molins has said the authorities have identified the killer. The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack saying the attacker is Abu Yusuf al-Belgiki, a known extremist. Police are seeking an arrest warrant for a second suspect who allegedly arrived in France by train from Belgium. al-Belgiki is believe to also be from Belgium.
European counterterrorism experts said they believed that the Islamic State’s claim was credible.Peter R. Neumann, the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College London, while noting that the speed at which they ISIS claimed repsonisbilty was “surprising.”
“It seems prepared and coordinated,” Mr. Neumann added, noting that the Islamic State claim was in multiple languages, “like they knew this was going to happen.”
France has been under a state of emergency with a large presence of heavily armed police on city streets since ISIS-inspired terrorists killed 130 people in November 2015.
Earlier this week two men were arrested in Marseille on suspicion of having plans to conduct a terrorist attack. Police found weapons, ammunition and the highly volatile explosive TATP, or triacetone triperoxide.
— Nick Short (@PoliticalShort) April 20, 2017
TATP is the same explosives used in the attacks at the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015 and the Brussels attack in March of 2016, was found in one of the apartments used by the two men.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron, leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, conservative Francois Fillon and far-rightist Marine Le Pen all took to Twitter to express their support of the police and French solidarity.
Émotion et solidarité pour nos forces de l’ordre, à nouveau prises pour cible. MLP
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) April 20, 2017
President Trump, speaking at a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, expressed his condolences to the victims of what he said “looks like another terrorist attack.”
“What can you say?” he added. “It just never ends. We have to be strong, and we have to be vigilant.”
UPDATE: The police officer killed Thursday evening was Xavier Jugelé, a gay rights activist who worked with refugees in Greece. Jugelé, formerly of the gendarmerie, joined the Paris police force in 2010.
Karim Cheurfi, 39, is confirmed as the gunman who shot Jugelé in central Paris yesterday, Cheurfi was being investigated by intelligence services following serving more than 12 years in prison for shooting at police officers. Prosecutor Molins said Cheurfi was born in 1977 in Livry-Gargan, a suburb north-east of Paris. He confirmed that the gunman had been jailed four times between 2001 and 2014 for attempted murder, violence and robbery.
Reports are that a pump-action shotgun and knives had been found in the vehicle used in the Champs-Elysées attack and police were investigating how the attacker obtained his Kalashnikov. Previously sentenced to 20 years, Cheurfi won a 2005 appeal and left prison in 2013. In July 2014, he was sentenced to four years for violent robbery but was released the following year. (Wire service reports contributed to this update)