An armed terrorist, wielding an assault rifle, killed a Police Officer in a targeted terrorist attack in the Champs-Élysées, which is the most iconic boulevard in the city on April 20, 2017. The attack comes just two days before the Presidential elections scheduled for April 23, 2017 (Sunday). The Police retaliated and shot dead the terrorist as he tried to escape from the crime scene. Two other Police Officers and a bystander were injured in the attack.
This attack raises some important questions. Will the terrorist attack have an impact on the impending elections? Will the vote share tilt towards the far-right conservatives this election? How frequent has France been targeted by terrorist groups?
Before we answer these questions let us take a look at the place of the attack and the details of the incident.
The Champs-Élysées attack is an attack on the popular culture of Paris, a city which is referred as the city of love, romance and lights. Champs-Élysées is an avenue that is popular for its theatres, cafés, and luxury shops. The French take pride in the cultural richness of this place and proudly call this boulevard "world's most beautiful avenue."
According to The New York Times, the Paris Prosecutor, François Molins, said "shortly before 9:00 p.m. a car pulled up close 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. The gunman then tried to flee while firing at other officers but was killed by the police."
Soon after the attack, the Police blocked access to the crowded street, which is lined with chic restaurants, high-end stores, and glittery lights. A panic-struck crowd ran amok for shelter in surrounding areas. The attack came only two days before the much-awaited Presidential vote with 11 candidates running for elections.
President François Hollande condemned the attack as "an act of terrorism." Mr. Hollande, while speaking from the Élysée Palace, offered tribute to the Police and said, "It has been the case for a number of months, and we will have absolute vigilance when it comes to the elections," adding, "But everyone will understand that at this hour, my thoughts are with the family of the police who were killed and with those close to the wounded policeman."
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a message posted on Amaq News Agency. Paris prosecutor has said that he had opened a terrorism investigation.
The Police officers have begun their search for possible accomplices of the attacker who was shot dead. As the search for accomplices is on, the political rhetoric has escalated given the time of elections on this weekend, tilting the vote share in favour of the far-right political parties that call for reducing immigration and evolving conservative economic policies.
One such candidate is Marine Le Pen, the Presidential Candidate for 2017 election, who is the President of the Far-Right political party National Front. She came out condemning the terrorist attack and said, "They kill our children, murder our policemen and slaughter our priests. Wake up!"
At the international level, Le Pen appears to share thoughts, ideology and political position with United States President Donald Trump. On the question of immigration, she aims to cut down legal immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 per year in France. Worst, she wants to curtail immigrants' access to public services within the country. Much like Trump, Le Pen, is economically conservative and believes in 'protecting' French workers.
Dr. Ambreen Agha, security analyst in India, said that the claims made by ISIS are certainly credible given the timing of their declaration, which points at their preparedness. Commenting on its impact on the upcoming elections, Dr. Agha said that the attack could be a tip off for a conservative far-right candidate, who has, so far, been tough on terrorism and issues of immigration that has been linked to internal security. Dr. Agha clearly said that this could work for the far-right leader Marine Le Pen as she has a hard stand against Muslim immigration.
While security analyst point towards Le Pen coming out victorious, there are others like François Fillon who, too, have pledged to eradicate Islamic terrorism. This attack can have a positive impact on one of the anti-immigrant torchbearers.
France has been on high alert since the last terrorist attacks in and around Paris in November 2015. That was the sixth terrorist attack in Paris alone since 2015.
Earlier this year on March 18, 2017, a radicalised Muslim, identified as Ziyed Ben Belgacem (39) a French national of North African origin and born in Paris, opened fire at a Police officer on northern Paris "before travelling across the city to Orly airport, where he was killed following an altercation with another officer." Before Ziyed was shot dead, he shouted, "I am here to die for Allah, there will be deaths."
On February 3, 2017, an Egyptian man, identified as Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy (29), who was on a tourist visa, rushed a group of French soldiers guarding the entrance to Louvre Museum in Paris, with a machete. One soldier was injured in the attack. In retaliation, French soldiers shot and critically wounded the attacker who shouted "Allahu Akbar" as he attacked them with a machete. The attack is popularly known as "Louvre knife attack" or "Paris machete attack."
On June 13, 2016, a French Police commander was killed at his home in the residential area of Magnanville, north-west of Paris in front of their 8-year-old son. The terrorist, who was affiliated with ISIS, then killed the Police commander's partner who also worked for the Police on the spot. ISIS had claimed responsibility for the two killings. The attacker was identified as Larossi Abballa (25), who had been earlier charged with terrorism.
On January 7, 2015, two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, armed with assault rifles and other weapons, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others. The attackers were affiliated with al-Qaeda, which later took responsibility for the attack.
The deadliest among all is the November 2015 series of terrorist strikes in Paris. On November 13, 2015, there were a series of three suicide attacks outside the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, during a football match, followed by mass shootings, and another suicide bombing at cafés and restaurants. The terrorists carried out another mass shooting and took hostages at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in the Bataclan theatre. All seven attackers were shot dead or blew themselves up when Police raided the theatre. A total of 130 people were killed and another 368 people were injured.
Since the November 2015 attack, a state of emergency has been declared in France with greatly expanded Police powers. The latest attack before the Elections heightens security concerns as the French electorate goes to vote on Sunday.