Police Continue Investigation Into Paris' Champs Elysees Shooting

Apr 21, 2017
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Paris, police have identified the attacker in last night's killing of a police officer on the Champs-Elysees. French officials say he had an extensive criminal record but was not under surveillance for Islamic radicalization. The attack comes just before the first round of voting in France on Sunday in the presidential race. It's a race that could change the face of Europe. We're going to talk about this now to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Paris. And Frank, who is the person that police say killed that police officer?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Authorities say his name was Karim Cheurfi - 39 years old and was born in France. He shot an officer twice in the head yesterday with an AK-47. Police then killed him and later found a paper near his body - perhaps, it fell out of his pocket - defending ISIS and including addresses of police stations. Cheurfi had a long rap sheet, including a 15-year sentence back in 2007. That was for attempted assassination of a police officer.

MCEVERS: Here in the U.S., president Trump tweeted that this attack will, quote, "have a big effect on the presidential election." I mean, what's he talking about?

LANGFITT: He appears to be talking about Marine Le Pen. You know, she is Trump's political equivalent here on the French political landscape. She's anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, very tough on terrorism. Her National Front Party is extreme right wing. She's in this very tight four-way race, and Trump seems to be suggesting the attacks are going to boost her support.

MCEVERS: What do people in Paris say about that theory?

LANGFITT: There tends to be actually widespread agreement. A lot of people I talked to felt the same way this morning. You know, this race has been about big issues - unemployment, corruption globalization and immigration. Terrorism hasn't been a big part of it, and some people think that this is going to focus people on this issue, which is good for Le Pen in the final days.

Now, I talked to political analysts. They were a little more skeptical. Here's a guy named Thomas Vitiello. He thinks Le Pen is just too polarizing to get much mileage out of this. And Vitiello - he teaches political science at Sciences Po. That's one of France's top universities.

THOMAS VITIELLO: Despite her tough rhetoric on immigration, despite her tough rhetoric on law and other issues and on terrorism, she has never been a figure around which people have rallied.

MCEVERS: I mean, there are still a lot of undecided voters in this race, right?

LANGFITT: Yeah, they're a ton. It's remarkable.

MCEVERS: And could they move toward Le Pen in these final days?

LANGFITT: Le Pen's been on the scene for a long time. People know her very well. I was talking to Corrine Mellul. She's a political analyst here, and here's what she focused on.

CORRINE MELLUL: The question is, really, who did not intend to vote for her yesterday morning and will because of what happened last night? If you put the question that way, I don't think we're talking about a lot of people.

MCEVERS: What are people outside of Paris saying about this - about the attack last night?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, I'm in Paris. It's hard to know exactly, but we were able to make a call today down to Carcassonne - that's in the south of France - and talk to a woman named Natalie Merci (ph). She runs a hat store down there. She thought this was going to have a big impact. She said after the attack, one of her friends told her she was going to switch her vote to Le Pen. And Merci described what her morning was like at the store when we were chatting on the phone.

NATALIE MERCI: (Speaking French).

LANGFITT: "Everybody's talking about it," she said. "I had clients this morning. This is the first thing they talked about. People are afraid. People say there's nowhere they feel secure."

It's interesting, Kelly. You know, Paris has been hit with very big attacks in recent years. And to some degree - and it's sad to say this, but I think it's probably true - Parisians take this sort of thing a bit in stride. It's possible that this resonates more elsewhere.

MCEVERS: And we mentioned that this election is a big deal. I mean, what are the stakes here?

LANGFITT: They're really, really big. And let's put it in the kind of the context that Americans will grasp. And that is the United Kingdom vote for Brexit to leave the EU, European Union, last summer was the first of what people thought could be a populist wave. Then we saw Mr. Trump get elected in the U.S. There have been a couple of populist losses recently. And this is kind of the rubber match. It's 2-2. People are going to be very interested to see and very concerned to see what happens to Marine Le Pen and does that mean the West really goes in a very different sort of direction, much more nationalistic and defensive and not as welcoming?

MCEVERS: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Paris, thank you very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Kelly Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.