Paris Police secure the Champs-Elysees after one police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting in Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS – Christian Hartmann
French security services are today facing troubling questions as to how they failed to prevent an ISIS gunman from slaughtering one policeman and wounding two other officers when he was already on a terror watch list.
Champs-Elysees killer Karim Cheurfi had been detained only last month, it has emerged, after informants said he was ‘seeking to obtain weapons to kill policemen’.
But the 39-year-old, who used the war name ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’, had to be released because anti-terror police did not have enough evidence to hold him.
The homegrown fanatic, who officials confirmed was a French national despite his nickname, had also been released early from prison – where it is thought he was radicalised – having been jailed for 20 years in 2005 for trying to kill two policemen.
Cheurfi opened fire five times with a .38 revolver following a car chase in 2001, leaving the officers and a third victim wounded.
He had fled on foot before the driver of the other car and the passenger – a trainee police officer – caught up with him. He fired twice, seriously wounding both men in the chest. All three survived the attack in Roissy-en-Brie, in the Seine-et-Marne department of northern France.
Cheurfi was arrested and placed in custody under a false name. Two days later he seriously injured an officer who was taking him out of his cell, seizing his weapon and firing several times.
Two French officials said this morning that Cheurfi was detained in February for threatening police before being freed, although a warrant for his arrest is dated March 6.
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The killer was known to security services in France, according to reports this evening
One police officer was shot dead and two more seriously injured by a gunman carrying a Kalashnikov in Paris this evening
Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry, confirmed that one police officer was dead and two seriously wounded following the ‘targeted attack’
The arrest warrant issued for Cheurfi before he was detained at the beginning of last month
The ISIS killer is believed to have been released in 2016 following the triple assassination attempt, at a time when he was known for drug offences, car theft and robbery.
Despite having the nickname ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’, Cheurfi was a French national, Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon told public broadcaster VRT.
It has been claimed Cheurfi was making dark threats on messaging app Telegram before launching his attack on the Champs Elysees in Paris last night.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the atrocity, which was carried out with a Kalashnikov weapon. A female foreign terrorist was also injured when a bullet ricocheted off the police car before Cheurfi was shot dead.
The fatal incident unfolded as presidential candidates, including National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, debated on a TV show nearby before Sunday’s election.
French President Francois Hollande said he was convinced it was a terrorist attack, adding that he would hold a security cabinet meeting this morning.
The French-born killer lived in Chelles, a commuter town close to Paris in the Seine-et-Marne department.
In 2003 he was sentenced to 20 years inside a high security prison following the attacks in Roissy-en-Brie, also in Seine-et-Marne.
But he was let out early following an appeal ruling, giving him the freedom to carry out tonight’s attack.
Gunshot-like noise forces BBC crew in Paris to run off the street
WHAT IS TELEGRAM? THE APP ALLEGEDLY USED BY KILLER
The app makers have boasted of security settings which keep messages safe from ‘snoopers’
Telegram is a messaging app which focuses on speed and security, according to its makers.
It allows users to send messages, photos, videos and files to groups of up to 5,000 and broadcast to unlimited audiences.
A statement on Telegram’s website about security says: ‘Big internet companies like Facebook or Google have effectively hijacked the privacy discourse in the recent years.
‘Their marketers managed to convince the public that the most important things about privacy are superficial tools that allow hiding your public posts or your profile pictures from the people around you. Adding these superficial tools enables companies to calm down the public and change nothing in how they are turning over private data to marketers and other third parties.
‘At Telegram we think that the two most important components of Internet privacy should be instead:
- Protecting your private conversations from snooping third parties, such as officials, employers, etc
- Protecting your personal data from third parties, such as marketers, advertisers, etc
‘This is what everybody should care about, and these are some of our top priorities. Telegram’s aim is to create a truly free messenger, without the usual caveats. This means that instead of diverting public attention with low-impact settings, we can afford to focus on the real privacy issues that exist in the modern world.’
Cheurfi was the registered keeper of the grey Audi used in last night’s attack. A raid on his home later found guns and ammunition, intelligence sources said.
He had targeted a parked patrol car full of traffic control officers working to the Paris prefecture.
The officer killed was at the wheel and was having an evening snack at the time of his death.
French television network BFMTV reports that Cheurfi had used the Telegram internet messaging service, which extremists have previously been claimed to favour because of its encryption.
Police are searching the home of the shooter in eastern Paris, and following the attack French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has called for the election campaign to be suspended.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry, confirmed that one police officer was dead and two seriously wounded following the ‘targeted attack’.
He said a ‘car pulled up just after 9pm’ next to a police patrol car which was parked up on the busy avenue.
Police search the car reportedly used in Paris attack
Intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for ‘State-security’
Police officers searched the home of the suspected gunman in east Paris following the attack in the capital on Thursday
Officers searched the home of the suspected gunman on Thursday evening after they travelled to his home in the east part of the capital
A man jumped out with a weapon and started firing indiscriminately into the police vehicle, hitting the unidentified officer who died directly in the head.
The assailant then ran off, pursued by other officers. Two of them were wounded as they killed him.
Mr Brandet said ‘all lines of investigation were being pursued’, while intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for ‘State-security’.
This means he would have been under surveillance, because he was a known risk to the country.
Mr Brandet later said a possible accomplice had turned himself over to Belgian police, but it was ‘too early to say’ if he had played a significant part in the attack.
President Hollande, speaking from the Elysee palace close to the scene of the shooting, said: ‘A national tribute will be paid to this policeman who was killed in such a cowardly way.
‘A passerby was hit. The assailant was neutralised by other police officers. The entire area has been cordoned off. The people present have been evacuated.’
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Updated 9:35 PM ET, Thu April 20, 2017
The suspect, who was shot dead by French police, was the subject of a “Fiche S” surveillance file and was on the radar of the French domestic security service DGSI, the source said.
The man was a French national who shot two officers in 2001 after being stopped by a police car, the source said. He was taken into custody but while being questioned grabbed another officer’s gun and shot him three times, the source said. He was convicted in that attack and had a criminal record because of involvement in violent robberies, the source said.
The source said French investigators now believe this was in all likelihood a terrorist attack. They believe there was just one attacker, and the danger is likely over, the source said.
ISIS issued a statement saying an Islamic State “fighter” carried out the attack. The ISIS claim comes via a statement released by the group’s media wing, Amaq. The ISIS statement identified the attacker and called him “the Belgian.” CNN has not confirmed the attacker’s association with Belgium.
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said he will reveal the shooter’s identity on Friday at a news conference. He said officers are searching the man’s residence in Chelles, Seine-et-Marne, a Paris suburb, and are trying to determine if he had accomplices.
The shooting has not officially been declared a terrorist act but anti-terrorist forces are leading the investigation, French President Francois Hollande said.
“The people who were present have been evacuated and we are convinced that the leads which point us to this case, and which will allow us to uncover the truth, are of a terrorist nature,” he said.
Elections on Sunday
The shooting happened about 9 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) when a car stopped at 102 Champs-Elysees in front of a police van, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henry Brandet said.
A man emerged from the car and opened fire on the van with an “automatic weapon,” killing one officer instantly, he said. The man “then ran away, managing to shoot and wound two other policemen. Other policemen engaged and shot and killed the attacker,” Brandet said.
The slain officer was 30 years old, Molin said. One of the wounded officers was critically injured but is improving, he said. Also wounded was a female tourist.
The shooting shut down the famed Champs-Elysees, one of Paris’ top tourist attractions and home to the iconic Arc de Triomphe monument. The avenue was clear of residents and tourists but teeming with security officers Thursday night.
It comes three days before French voters start elections for a new president. Candidates went ahead with a debate Thursday night.
France has been in a state of emergency since the 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead. Parliament voted in December to extend the extraordinary provisions to ensure the protection of upcoming presidential and general elections.
Security has been tight because of the vote. Just two days ago French authorities arrested two men in Marseille
who were allegedly planning an attack in a run-up to the election.
At least three underground train stations of the Paris Metro — the Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau, George V and F. Roosevelt stations — have been “closed off” near the site of the police operation on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, BFMTV reported.
Trump: ‘What can you say?’
Paris resident Daoud Kal, 29, said he was walking in the area near a metro station when he heard four to five shots. He looked around, but couldn’t identify where the shots were coming from. People panicked and ran away from the scene and he joined them.
The CNN Paris bureau is on this street and staffers reported hearing a dozen shots. At least 20 police vehicles were seen on the street.
Officers could be seen forcibly removing innocent citizens from the area as they attempted to get them to safety.
President Donald Trump, speaking at a news conference in Washington with the visiting Italian Prime Minister, offered condolences to the people of France after the shooting, saying it “looks like another terrorist attack.”
“What can you say? It never ends,” the President said.
The Champs-Elysees is a main road lined with restaurants, cafes, exclusive designer boutiques and tourist shops. At one end is the Arc de Triomphe, surrounded by a several-lane-wide roundabout, and the other end stops at the Place de la Concorde, known for its obelisk monument.
The presidential palace, the Elysee, is a few blocks away.
French police tweeted, “Police intervention underway in the area of the #ChampsElysees avoid the sector and follow the instructions of the police forces.”
French candidates respond
The US State Department put out a cautionary tweet
, saying: “If you’re in #Paris, monitor local news. #ChampsElysees has been closed. Authorities are telling people to avoid the area after a shooting.”
The shooting comes three days before French general elections
and Paris was already in a state of heightened alert. French politicians immediately reacted
on social media.
French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted, “My emotions and solidarity for the police, once again targeted.”
Conservative French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon tweeted, “Paying homage to police who give their lives to protect ours, #ChampsElysees.”
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve tweeted: “Paying homage to the policeman killed on the champs elysees. Thoughts are with his family. Solidarity with his injured colleagues and those close to them.”
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy tweeted: “To our law enforcement: support, strength, courage. They are paying again a heavy price. Our Nation’s tribute must be total NS”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted: “We won’t give up, not bow and remain united facing these odious and insidious threats that weigh on our cities.”
She also extended a message of solidarity and thanks to the retailers on the Champs-Elysees who gave people shelter during the attack.
This developing story has been updated to clarify details about the attacker’s nationality.