PARIS — France began picking itself up Friday from another deadly shooting claimed by the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) group, with President Francois Hollande convening the government’s security council and his would-be successors in the presidential election campaign treading carefully before voting this weekend.
Investigators found a pump-action shotgun and knives in the car of the gunman who targeted police on the Champs-Elysees, and were working to determine whether he had accomplices. The prime minister said the government has reviewed its already extensive election security measures and says it is “fully mobilized” for Sunday’s vote.
One of the key questions was whether, and how, the attack that killed one police officer and wounded three other people might impact voting intentions. The risk for the main candidates was that misjudging the public mood, making an ill-perceived gesture or comment, could damage their chances. With polling just two days away, and campaigning banned from Friday at midnight, they would have no time to recover before polls open on Sunday. Candidates on Friday canceled or rescheduled final campaign events.
“Nothing must hamper this democratic moment, essential for our country,” Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, appealing for national unity and for people “not to succumb to fear.”
“The whole of Europe is targeted because it represents the values and ideals of peace,” he said.
Far-right French populist leader Marine Le Pen on Friday called for “a clear head and a firm grip” in the wake of the attack, which put the focus back on one of the main themes of her election campaign for the French presidency: France’s fight against Islamic extremism.
Speaking on RFI radio, Le Pen said: “It is time to stop being naive.”
More than 50,000 police and gendarmes are mobilized to protect Sunday’s first-round vote in the two-stage election, with an additional 7,000 soldiers also on patrol. He added that the intelligence services are working “in the shadows” and elite intervention police forces are also on alert.
On the iconic avenue in the heart of Paris, municipal workers in white hygiene suits were out before dawn Friday to wash down the sidewalk where the assault took place – a scene now depressingly familiar after multiple attacks that have killed more than 230 people in France in little over two years. Delivery trucks did their early morning rounds; everything would have seemed normal were it not for the row of TV trucks parked up along the boulevard that is a must-visit for tourists.
The two police officers injured in the attack are out of danger, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said. National police spokesman Jerome Bonet, also speaking on BFM television, said “there were thousands of people” on the iconic boulevard in Paris when the gunman opened fire and that the rapid response of officers who shot and killed him avoided a possible “carnage.”