French police closed the world’s most famous shopping street – the Champs Elysées in Paris – after a police officer was shot dead and two others wounded today. The incident occurred just two days out from a cliffhanger presidential election.
The shooting happened as all 11 presidential candidates made their last pitches in a TV debate before the first round of the election on Sunday (French time).
An anti-terrorist investigation has been launched although the attacker’s motives were not immediately clear. There were suggestions that it was a deliberate attempt to sway voters.
“On the face of it, the officers were deliberately targeted,” interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.
Islamist militancy is a major issue in the polls after recent mass attacks claimed by so-called Islamic State, with 238 people killed in attacks in France since 2015.
Because of its worldwide renown and its large number of visitors, the Champs Elysées has long been seen as a potential target.
Outgoing president Francois Hollande was to address the nation after meeting with prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve and interior minister Matthias Fekl. He is expected to declare a state of emergency to ensure security up to and during the election.
A car pulled up alongside a police bus near the landmark Marks & Spencer store just before 9pm (Paris time) and a man got out, opening fire with an automatic weapon at the bus, Brandet said.
After killing an officer, he attempted to run away while shooting at other officers. Two were injured. He was shot dead by security forces.
According to one TV news channel, the killer was known to security services. He had talked of wanting to kill police officers on social media. Police went immediately to his home east of Paris and searched it.
Authorities closed the boulevard and surrounding streets and called on the public to avoid the area.
Security had already been stepped up at political rallies this week after the arrest of two men on Tuesday suspected of plotting an “imminent and violent attack” in the run-up to the vote.
There was no information whether today’s incident was linked to those arrests.
Officials said the men arrested on Tuesday were seeking to “have an impact in this [electoral] period”. They had amassed an arsenal of weapons and bomb-making equipment, including 3kg of homemade explosive found in the flat where they were staying.
As interior minister Fekl announced exceptional security measures for the remainder of the campaign, the five main candidates responded by downplaying the threat and continuing electioneering.
Four candidates are roughly level in the polls in the run-up to the first-round vote: the far-right Marine Le Pen; the centrist independent Emmanuel Macron; the right-wing François Fillon; and the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
There is no certainty which two will go through to the final round on 7 May.