With two days before France’s first round presidential vote, Thursday’s shooting attack on the Champs-Elysees in central Paris risks thrusting national security and the spectre of terrorism back on the national agenda and in minds of millions of French voters.
Front-running candidates Emmanuel Macron, Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen each plan to either suspend their campaign or cancel campaign stops and have each publically denounced the attack.
One police officer was killed and another two were wounded when a gunman, deliberately targeting the officers, opened fire with an assault weapon before being killed himself by French security forces.
The identity of the attacker, says the Paris prosecutor, is known but while police conduct their investigation, his identity will not be revealed.
Shortly after the attack, ISIL claimed they were behind the shooting.
And this claim of responsibility, although not officially confirmed by French authorities, has shaped how the leading candidates have responded.
The underlying message coming from the candidates is one of solidarity with France’s security forces and one of increasing conflict between the Republic and terrorism.
Marine Le Pen
Émotion et solidarité pour nos forces de l’ordre, à nouveau prises pour cible. MLP— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) April 20, 2017
The far-right candidate, in a press conference Friday morning, had the most hard-lined reaction to Thursday’s shooting.
Le Pen called on the government to reinstate checks at France’s borders and expel foreigners currently being monitored by intelligence services.
She also argued for the banning of Salafist organisations and the closure of known Islamist mosques.
During her statement, Le Pen alluded to recent terror attacks that hit London, St. Petersburg and Stockholm as well as an imminent attack foiled this week in Marseille in which two people were arrested.
“Our country France has once again had the barbarity of a terrorist assault in the heart of our capital,” Le Pen said. “Once again it was the police who were targeted and paid for the fight against radical Islam with their blood. It is a monstrous ideology which has declared war on our nation, on our reason, and on our civilisation.”
Seizing on Thursday night’s killing, Fillon, also took a hard-line approach. In a statement outside his campaign headquarters, he decried what he calls “Islamic Totalitarianism”.“We are at war, there is no alternative, it’s us or them”, he said urging for an intellectual and cultural assault against the terrorism and against ISIL’s philosophy.
He said the immediate priority of the next French president should be the destruction of ISIL, and if he were to be elected, ISIL would be one of the main pillars of his foreign policy.
“This battle for the freedom and security of the French must be the priority of the next government,” Fillon said. “It will require and unyielding determination and a cool head.”
Accomplishing the defeat of ISIL, however, will not be possible as long as the world’s top powers, Russia, and the US for instance, remain divided, Fillon said.
He added he would take the lead in establishing an international coalition tasked with confronting ISIL on a unified front.
Ce soir, je veux témoigner toute ma solidarité à l’égard de nos forces de l’ordre. pic.twitter.com/aUiBacywpW— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) April 20, 2017
Unlike the firebrand rhetoric of his front-runner opponent Le Pen, Macron has taken a more nuanced position, urging French voters to be mindful of their morality amid this most recent attack.
“Don’t yield to fear, don’t yield to division and intimidation. Our generation must rise to this challenge,” he said from his campaign headquarters. “Our moral challenge, today and for the years to come is, on the one hand, to not divide us, but it’s also to prepare our future. What they want is a collapse in morality, what they want is to watch us fall into ruin. I will not give in to this, do not play with fear.”
Mes pensées vont au policier tué, à ses collègues blessés. Soutien total aux forces de l’ordre contre le terrorisme. #ChampsElysees— Benoît Hamon (@benoithamon) April 20, 2017
Socialist candidate Hamond appealed for voters to cherish democracy in the face of those who kill.
“We should cherish the democratic moment because others despise it, most notably terrorists who kill,” Hamon said.
Les violents n’auront pas le dernier mot. Notre feuille de route est la devise de la patrie : Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. pic.twitter.com/fd391nOfty— Jean-Luc Mélenchon (@JLMelenchon) April 21, 2017
Those who commit violence, vowed Melenchon, “won’t have the final word”, he said on social media in the aftermath of Thursday’s shooting.
As police in Paris probe all options, including that of Islamic terrorism, Melenchon appealed for calm and the strength of France’s democracy.
“No panic, no interrupting the process of our democracy to show that the violent will not have the last word over (those who believe in democracy)”.Nicolas Dupont-Aignan
Although far behind in the polls Nicolas Dupont-Aignan mirrored the strong sentiment of Le Pen and Fillon on social media Friday.
dupontaignan</a> "On a l'impression d'être devenus des machines à hommage. Les dirigeants ne prennent pas les mesures nécessaires.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GGRMC?src=hash">#GGRMC</a></p>— Debout la France (DLF_Officiel) April 21, 2017
The candidate of France Stand Up took to Twitter to state how dissatisfied he is by France’s political leaders who he says have become “homage machines” in the face of terror attacks and who “don’t take the necessary measures.”
He said in another post France has to act to avoid suffering.
Je refuse de faire de la compassion notre seule réponse à la barbarie islamiste : il faut agir pour ne plus subir. #AttentatChampsElysees— N. Dupont-Aignan (@dupontaignan) April 21, 2017
In another, he vowed he would find those on terror watch lists one by one – preferring injustice on a couple hundred rather than on innocents.
dupontaignan</a> "J'irai chercher les fiché S 1 à 1. Je préfère l'injustice sur une centaine de fichés S que sur des innocents." <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GGRMC?src=hash">#GGRMC</a></p>— Debout la France (DLF_Officiel) April 21, 2017
Contrary to the other candidates vying for France’s highest office, Arthaud took Thursday night’s killing as an opportunity to denounce France’s “imperialist politics”.
In a statement in which she expresses her compassion to the victims of the attack and their families, she denounced what she sees as France’s hypocritical history of of supporting “medieval dictatorships” in Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“I reject all solidarity with the French state,” she wrote. “Its imperialistic politics feeds terrorism. … All workers have the same interests, whatever their origins, the colour of their skin and their religion. They need to rally around the only viable perspective: to fight together for a society rid of imperialism and of its wars and avatars.”