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French Presidential Candidates Halt Campaigns in Wake of Paris Attack

PARIS — A deadly attack on a police bus in the heart of Paris cast the shadow of terror over the final days of the French presidential election campaign.

One police officer died after a gunman wielding a machine gun leapt out of a car and opened fire on the Champs-Elysees, Paris’s most famous boulevard, as candidates were engaging in their final TV debate.

The attack dramatically changed the course of the campaign’s final hours: the three main candidates canceled campaign events and instead made televised statements in which they competed to talk tough on security and vowed a crackdown on ISIS.

The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, demanded the closure of all Islamist mosques. The Prime Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, accused her of trying to capitalize on the attack.

ISIS swiftly claimed the attack was carried out by one of its “fighters.” The assailant — Karim Cheurfi, a French national with a long and violent riminal record — was shot dead as he tried to make his escape. Prosecitors said a note praising ISIS fell out of his pocket, although there was no previous evidence of radicalization.

Key developments:

Attack came days before first round of voting in presidential election. Paris prosecutors named the attacker as Karim Cheurfi. Three members of attacker’s family arrested. ISIS names a man it claims was involved in the attack.

Election in turmoil

Center-right candidate François Fillon, Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron canceled planned campaign events after the shooting. Under French election rules, Friday was due to be the final day of campaigning before Sunday’s first round of voting.

It was unclear whether the attack would tip the balance of the vote in favor of Le Pen, who has vowed to take a tough line on “Islamic terrorism.”

At a televised news conference Friday, Le Pen called for the closure of all “Islamist” mosques in France, the expulsion of hate preachers and the reinstatement of French borders.

People on the French security services’ watch list for radicalization should also be expelled from France and have their French citizenship revoked, she said.

Cazeneuve accused Le Pen of trying to capitalize on the attack. “The candidate of the Front National, like every drama, seeks to profit from and to control the situation to divide. She seeks to benefit from fear for exclusively political ends,” the Prime Minister said in a televised address.

Fillon said that if elected, his foreign policy priority would be the destruction of ISIS. He also called for the creation of 10,000 more police posts.

“In times such as these we have to demonstrate that France is united,” he said. “We also have to be clear that we are in a state of emergency. We are at war. This fight for freedom and for the security of the French people must be the priority of the next five-year term.”

Cazeneuve, however, questioned Fillon’s position on security, saying that when he previously served as Prime Minister he had cut thousands of security force jobs.

Macron appealed to voters not to succumb to fear. “Do not give in to fear, do not give in to division, do not give in to intimidation,” he said. “The choice that you have to make on Sunday must be a choice for the future.”

Macron said he would hire an additional 10,000 police officers in the next five years and that he would create a task force under the French Presidency to fight ISIS.

Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon urged the French people to “remain cool-headed” and “to not subject ourselves to hate, vengeance and resentment.”

Terror investigation

On its media channel, Amaq, ISIS claimed that the attack was carried out by “Abu Yousuf al-Baljiki (the Belgian) and he is one of the Islamic State’s fighters.”

Belgian Interior Ministry spokesman Olivier Van Raemdonck told CNN the attacker was not Belgian and that there did not appear to be a Belgian connection to the incident.

It is not clear to whom ISIS was referring in its claim.

A man who turned himself in to Antwerp police was Youssef El Osri. The man’s lawyer, Nabil Riffi, told CNN his client was “very shocked” at being linked to the Paris shooting and that he had been working at a gas station in Antwerp at the time it occurred.

Security in Paris has been stepped up in recent days, but the presence of 50,000 police officers on the streets was not enough to prevent the latest assault, which was being investigated by anti-terror officials.

French President François Hollande convened a meeting of the country’s defense council Friday.

The dead officer was 37, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported. One of the wounded officers was critically injured but is improving, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said. Also wounded was a female tourist.

A source close to the investigation said the attacker had a long criminal record. He shot two officers in 2001 after being stopped by a police, according to the source. He was taken into custody but while being questioned grabbed another officer’s gun and shot him three times, the source added. He was convicted in that attack and had a criminal record because of involvement in violent robberies.

French media reported that he was more recently investigated by counterterror officials because of alleged threats he made against French law enforcement.

Three members of his family were arrested in the Paris suburb of Chelles early Friday morning.

Earlier this week French authorities arrested two men in Marseille who were allegedly planning an attack in a run-up to the election.

World leaders react

Speaking in Indonesia Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the attack was just the latest reminder “that terrorism can strike anywhere at any time.”

US President Donald Trump, at a news conference in Washington, said: “What can you say? It never ends.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her sympathy “goes out to the victims and their families,” according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert.

In a statement, the UK government said it “strongly condemns the appalling terrorist attack in Paris.”

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.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the extent to which French intelligence authorities were monitoring Karim Cheurfi before the attack.