Paris killer was arrested in February for threatening police, freed
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Paris killer was arrested in February for threatening police, freed

Suspect in Islamic State terror attack on Champs-Elysees was also convicted in 2003 of attempted homicide in shootings of two officers

A soldier stands guard near the Arc of Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, after a fatal shooting on April 20, 2017. (AP/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A soldier stands guard near the Arc of Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, after a fatal shooting on April 20, 2017. (AP/Kamil Zihnioglu)

PARIS — Two French officials said the gunman who shot and killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysees had been detained in February for threatening police then freed.

The officials spoke Friday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss details of the probe into Thursday night’s attack.

The officials said the gunman was detained toward the end of February after speaking threateningly about the police but then released for lack of evidence.

He was convicted in 2003 of attempted homicide in shootings on two police officers.

This photo provided by the AP on the condition that its source not be revealed, shows Karim Cheurfi. Police have searched a home in a suburb east of Paris believed linked to the attack on police on the Champs-Elysees. (AP Photo)
This photo provided by AP on condition that its source not be revealed, shows Karim Cheurfi. Police have searched a home in a suburb east of Paris believed linked to the attack on police on the Champs-Elysees on April 20, 2017. (AP)

France was picking itself up Friday from the shooting claimed by the Islamic State group, with President Francois Hollande calling together the government’s security council and his would-be successors in the presidential election campaign treading carefully before voting this weekend.

One of the key questions was if, and how, the attack that killed one police officer and wounded three other people might impact voting intentions.

Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron appealed to voters to keep a cool head in the wake of the attack.

French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron takes part in a special political TV show entitled "15mn to convince" at the studios of French television channel France 2 in Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, on April 20, 2017, a few days ahead of the first round of the presidential election. (Martin BUREAU / AFP)
French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron takes part in a special political TV show on April 20, 2017, a few days ahead of the first round of the presidential election. (AFP/Martin Bureau)

Speaking Friday on RTL radio, Macron said: “What our attackers want is death, symbolism, to sow panic [and] to disturb a democratic process, which is the presidential election.”

The centrist who has been a front-runner in polls with Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front said he has canceled two planned campaign stops on Friday out of a sense to “decency” and to allow police to concentrate resources on the attack investigation.

Asked if the assault would impact voting on Sunday, Macron said: “No one knows.”

He vowed that, if elected, he would within weeks of taking power create a task force to coordinate French intelligence efforts against the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for Thursday night’s attack.

French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference on April 21, 2017 at her campaign headquarters in Paris. (Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)
French presidential election candidate for the far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference at her campaign headquarters in Paris, April 21, 2017. (AFP/Lionel Bonaventure)

He tore into Le Pen, accusing her of lying with claims that previous attacks wouldn’t have happened under her watch.

“She won’t be able to protect our citizens,” Macron said of Le Pen.

Meanwhile Le Pen called for “a clear head and a firm grip” in the wake of the attack that 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 Friday morning on RFI radio, Le Pen said: “It is time to stop being naive.”

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 Paris prosecutor’s office leading the investigation of the Champs-Elysees gun attack says investigators found a pump-action shotgun and knives in the gunman’s car.

France's Interior Minister Matthias Fekl, left, Justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas, right, and Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve speak to the media after a defense and security council meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
France’s Interior Minister Matthias Fekl (left), Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas (right), and Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve speak to the media after a defense and security council meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP/Christophe Ena)

Hollande’s defense and security council meeting was part of government efforts to protect Sunday’s vote, taking place under already heightened security, with more than 50,000 police and soldiers mobilized, and a state of emergency in place since 2015.

The attacker emerged from a car and used an automatic weapon to shoot at officers outside a Marks & Spencer’s department store at the center of the Champs-Elysees, anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said. Police shot and killed the gunman. One officer was killed and two seriously wounded. A female foreign tourist also was wounded, Molins said.

The car belonging to an attacker is towed away from the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, after a fatal shooting in which a police officer was killed along with the attacker, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
The car belonging to an attacker is towed away from the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, after a fatal shooting in which a police officer was killed along with the attacker, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP/Thibault Camus)

French officials said the two injured police officers were both out of danger. Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said one of the injured officers was more seriously injured than the other but both are doing better.

National police spokesman Jerome Bonet, also speaking on BFM television, said “there were thousands of people” on the Paris boulevard when the gunman opened fire and that the rapid response of officers who shot and killed him avoided a possible “carnage.”

The Islamic State group’s claim of responsibility just a few hours after the attack came unusually swiftly for the extremist group, which has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement from its Amaq news agency, the group gave a pseudonym for the shooter, Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki, indicating he was Belgian or had lived in Belgium.

A man who had been linked by some as an accomplice to the Paris terror attack turned himself in, but authorities said there was no link.

A prosecutor in Belgium’s Antwerp said: “That man came to police late yesterday after he saw himself appear on social media as terror suspect No. 1 relating to yesterday’s facts.”

The prosecutor, who declined to be identified because the investigation was ongoing, said the man had nothing to do with the attack. “He was not part of a terrorism investigation.”

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens told VRT network early Friday that “at this moment we have no information about Belgian links.”

Police seal off the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, after a fatal shooting in which a police officer was killed along with an attacker, Thursday, April 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Police seal off the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, after a fatal shooting in which a police officer was killed along with an attacker, Thursday, April 20, 2017. (AP/Thibault Camus)

Investigators searched a home early Friday in an eastern suburb of Paris believed linked to the attack. A police document obtained by The Associated Press identifies the address searched in the town of Chelles as the family home of Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old with a criminal record.

Police tape surrounded the quiet, middle-class neighborhood and worried neighbors expressed surprise at the searches. Archive reports by French newspaper Le Parisien say that Cheurfi was convicted of attacking a police officer in 2001.

Authorities are trying to determine whether “one or more people” might have helped the attacker, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

The attacker had been flagged as an extremist, according to two police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the investigation.

The gunfire sent scores of tourists fleeing into side streets.

“They were running, running,” said 55-year-old Badi Ftaïti, who lives in the area. “Some were crying. There were tens, maybe even hundreds of them.”

Forensic experts investigate the crime scene after a fatal shooting in which a police officer was killed along with an attacker on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, France, Friday, April 21, 2017.(AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Forensic experts investigate the crime scene after a fatal shooting in which a police officer was killed along with the attacker on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, France, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP/Kamil Zihnioglu)

The assault recalled two recent attacks on soldiers providing security at prominent locations around Paris: one at the Louvre museum in February and one at Orly airport last month.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.

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