Knife-wielding man nabbed at Paris rail station

Arrest comes as France votes today amid tightened security

Police patrolling an area near the Eiffel Tower last Friday, the day after a policeman was killed and two others were wounded in a shooting incident on Paris' Champs Elysees.
Police patrolling an area near the Eiffel Tower last Friday, the day after a policeman was killed and two others were wounded in a shooting incident on Paris' Champs Elysees.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • A man was arrested at Gare du Nord train station in Paris after waving a knife at the police yesterday, on the eve of France's most unpredictable presidential election in decades, which takes place today amid increased security.

The man had approached police officers patrolling the train station and caused panic before he was arrested, a spokesman for French rail operator SNCF was quoted as saying by Reuters.

France has been on edge after the shooting at the Champs Elysees avenue last Thursday, which killed one police officer and injured two others. The authorities in Paris have offered more guards for hundreds of polling stations in the capital, on top of an already major security plan across the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Around 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers will be deployed to protect voters around France today.

Yesterday, French overseas territories and residents in places such as Hawaii began voting in the French presidential election. Of the 47 million registered French voters, there are fewer than a million living in far-flung places like French Polynesia in the South Pacific. They vote early so as not to be influenced by the mainland results due today.

Last Friday, the last day of campaigning before the first round of voting today, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, centre-right candidate Francois Fillon and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron all cancelled campaign events and competed to talk tough on security instead, CNN reported.

At a televised news conference last Friday, Ms Le Pen of the National Front called for the closure of all "Islamist" mosques in France, the expulsion of hate preachers and the reinstatement of French borders.

The day before, Karim Cheurfi, 39, had jumped out of a car and opened fire on Champs Elysees, Paris' most famous boulevard.

The French national with a violent criminal record was shot dead as he tried to escape. A note defending the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fell out of his pocket, CNN reported, though there was no previous proof of his radicalisation.

The French authorities had begun a counter-terrorism probe into Cheurfi last month after learning of his bid to contact an ISIS fighter in Syria and Iraq, a source close to the investigation told CNN last Friday.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

As for Mr Fillon, he said if he were elected, he would prioritise the destruction of ISIS in his foreign policy. He also called for the creation of 10,000 more police posts.

Mr Macron said he would hire 10,000 more police officers in the next five years and set up a task force under the French presidency to fight ISIS, CNN reported.

Meanwhile, United States President Donald Trump appears to have indirectly endorsed Ms Le Pen , calling her the "strongest" candidate in the first-round vote today.

He told the Associated Press that while he was not "explicitly endorsing" her, she was the "strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France".

"Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election," he said.

There are 11 candidates in the first round of the two-round presidential election. The two front runners will go on to a run-off on May 7.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Knife-wielding man nabbed at Paris rail station'. Subscribe