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Fears shroud France election after Champs Elysees attack

PARIS: The killing of a policeman on Paris’s Champs Elysees rocked France’s presidential race Friday with just two days to go before voting in the closest election for decades.

A note praising Islamic State (IS) was found near the body of the 39-year-old French attacker, who shot dead one officer and wounded two others before being killed by police.

The note bolstered IS’s claim that the perpetrator, named as Karim Cheurfi, was one of its “fighters”.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen — who is locked in a tight four-way contest with centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative Francois Fillon and Communist-backed firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon — moved quickly to present herself as the toughest of the four on terrorism.

The 48-year-old National Front leader called for France to “immediately” take back control of its borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist.

“This war against us is ceaseless and merciless,” she said in a sternly-worded address, accusing the Socialist government of a “cowardly” response to the threat.

Fillon and Macron also hastily convened televised briefings, where they both vowed to protect the French.

“Some haven’t taken the full measure of the evil,” 63-year-old Fillon said, promising an “iron-fisted” approach.

Macron, a 39-year-old moderate whom other candidates have portrayed as inexperienced, warned against any attempts to use the attack for political gain.

“Let us not give into fear, let us not give into division,” he said, telling voters he would be “unwavering in protecting you.”

A statement by IS’s propaganda agency Amaq said the attacker was one of its “fighters”, identifying him as “Abu Yussef the Belgian”.

But French authorities named him as Karim Cheurfi, a Frenchman living in the Paris suburbs.

‘Exploiting’ attack 

It was unclear how the election would be impacted by the shooting, which came days after two men were arrested in Marseille on suspicion of plotting an imminent attack.

The shooting follows a series of strikes around Europe in the last month, targeting Stockholm, London and the underground train system in Saint Petersburg.

Until now, surveys showed voters more concerned about unemployment and the economy than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this could change in the event of violence.

Macron and Le Pen had long led the presidential campaign but Melenchon and Fillon have closed in on them, with Fillon regaining some support lost to an expenses scandal.

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused Le Pen of attempting to use the police killing for political gain, saying she was “seeking, as she does after every tragedy, to take advantage of it”.

US President Donald Trump tweeted that the attack “will have a big effect” on the election.

Muslim body condemns attack

The prestigious Egyptian Muslim institution Al-Azhar condemned on Friday the attack in Paris, describing it as “sinful” and un-Islamic.

“Al-Azhar strongly condemns this sinful terrorist attack,” the Cairo-based institution said in a statement.

“Al-Azhar affirms its categorical rejection of such terrorist acts that contradict Islamic teachings,” it added.

 

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