Trump Says Paris Attack Will Have 'Big Effect' on French Election – New York Times

PARIS — President Trump inserted himself into the tumult of French politics on Friday, declaring that the fatal shooting of a police officer in central Paris would have “a big effect” when voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose among 11 presidential candidates.

Mr. Trump did not mention any candidates by name. But his statement on Twitter — “The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!” — came at the tail end of a tight, fragmented race, with at least four contenders running neck and neck.

One of them, Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, has issued grim warnings that a declining France is losing its identity, echoing Mr. Trump’s themes during the American presidential race last year. It was not clear, however, that Mr. Trump’s statement would help her among undecided voters.

In a statement on Friday, Ms. Le Pen blamed “radical Islam” — “a monstrous, totalitarian ideology that has declared war on our nation, on reason, on civilization” — for the attack Thursday night.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility within hours of the attack, which also wounded two police officers and a bystander and briefly shut down the city’s most famous boulevard.

On Friday afternoon, the Paris prosecutor, François Molins, identified the gunman as Karim Cheurfi, 39, a French citizen with a long record of violent crime, and provided an account of the attack.

At 8:47 p.m. on Thursday, Mr. Cheurfi arrived in an Audi off the Champs-Élysées, exited the car and opened fire with a Kalashnikov on a police vehicle, mortally wounding the officer who was in the driver’s seat. He then shot at police officers who were on duty outside a Turkish tourism office, injuring two officers, 34 and 31, and a bystander. He was shot dead as he tried to flee.

Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Europe 1 Radio on Friday that the police officers who killed the gunman had averted a “blood bath, a carnage on the Champs-Élysées.”

“This was an individual who was known by the judiciary, who was known to police services, who was a dangerous individual,” he said.

A piece of paper found near Mr. Cheurfi’s body contained a handwritten message expressing support for the Islamic State; other papers, in his car, had addresses for the French domestic intelligence agency and for a police station in Lagny-sur-Marne, a town about 13 miles east of Paris.

In the trunk of the Audi, investigators found a large black duffel bag containing a shotgun, ammunition, two large kitchen knives, pruning shears and a Quran.

Mr. Cheurfi had spent more than a decade in prison. In 2001, he was charged with attempted murder after attacking three police officers, one of them while he was in custody. He was given a 15-year sentence. Three other convictions followed: in 2007, he attacked a prison employee; in 2008, he assaulted a fellow inmate; and in 2013 — following his conditional release from prison — he committed theft and drove a car with a stolen license plate.

Last released from prison in October 2015, Mr. Cheurfi was placed under monitoring.

In January of this year, the Paris prosecutor received information that he was trying to obtain weapons and that he had made statements suggesting he wanted to kill police officers. But because there was no sign that Mr. Cheurfi was more than an ordinary criminal, the prosecutor in Meaux, a city about 30 miles east of Paris, near where he was living, handled the case.

Mr. Cheurfi was brought in for questioning and his house was searched on Feb. 23 — the police found hunting knives, plastic ties masks and a Go Pro camera that he had ordered online — but the authorities did not feel they had enough evidence to keep him in custody.

“At this stage of the investigation, there appeared no connection with the radical Islamist movement nor any sign of support,” Mr. Molins said.

Mr. Cheurfi was not flagged in the so-called S-files of the intelligence agencies, Mr. Molins said, because he had not shown any signs of radicalization during his time in prison. Nonetheless, in March, the authorities opened a preliminary terrorism investigation as a precaution.

The treatment of the roughly 10,000 people law enforcement officers have flagged as possible Islamist radicals in the S-files was a focus of Ms. Le Pen’s rhetoric on Friday. She said that foreigners in the files should be deported; that those who are dual citizens should be stripped of their French nationality; and that those who are French should be prosecuted.

Legal experts have noted, however, that the threshold for being designated for the S-files is very low compared with the evidence needed to secure a criminal conviction.

The conservative candidate François Fillon said that France needed to prepare for a struggle. “We are in a war that will be long,” he said in an address from his campaign headquarters. “The opponent is powerful; its networks are numerous; its accomplices live among us and beside us.”

Mr. Fillon said that, if elected, he would “take the diplomatic initiative” to broker consensus between Washington and Moscow on destroying the Islamic State “with an iron hand.” He added that “France’s Muslims overwhelmingly want to live their faith in peace,” and appealed for their help in combating fundamentalism.

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve responded to Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Fillon with a point-by-point rebuttal.

“She has pretended to ignore that it was this government that restored border controls,” he said of Ms. Le Pen, noting that more than 2,300 officers had been deployed along France’s frontiers every day since the attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. He also noted that 117 people had been expelled from France over terrorist activities, and that Ms. Le Pen’s party had voted against laws that strengthened the government’s intelligence-gathering powers.

“For all of our citizens, for our entire country, this attack is a tragedy,” he said. “Ms. Le Pen seeks to make it an opportunity.”

He said it was hard to believe Mr. Fillon’s promise to create 10,000 police jobs, saying that when the candidate was prime minister from 2007 to 2012, he had overseen spending reductions that resulted in the loss of 54,000 jobs in the military and 13,000 in internal security. During that period, France, like many countries, was tightening its belt in response to the financial crisis.

The centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron urged France not to succumb to the fear that extremists seek to spread.

“They want France to be afraid; they want to disrupt the democratic process; they want the French to yield to unreasonableness and division,” he said. “Our challenge is to protect the French, not to give up who we are, to stay unified and build a future.”

Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Europe 1 Radio on Friday that the police officers who killed the gunman had averted a “blood bath, a carnage on the Champs-Élysées.”

“This was an individual who was known by the judiciary, who was known to police services, who was a dangerous individual,” he said.

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