The gunman who killed a policeman in central Paris less than 72 hours before France’s presidential election has been identified as 39 years old Karim Cheurfi. Cheurfi was born in 1977, in Livry-Gargan, a suburb north-east of Paris. Cheurfi’s identity was confirmed from his fingerprints. He had been jailed four times between 2001 and 2014 for attempted murder, violence and robbery. He had served more than 12 years in prison for shooting at police officers and was being investigated by intelligence services.
On Friday, Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said that Cheurfi, drove up to a police van on the Champs Elysées at about 9 P.M. on Thursday, got out and shot the driver with two bullets to the head, then opened fire at police on the pavement, seriously wounding two. Cheurfi used a Kalashnikov assault rifle to shoot the officer twice in the head. Molins further stated that Cheurfi was last arrested in February after reports he had been talking about assaulting police. Knives and masks were found at his home but were not considered sufficient evidence to detain him further, so he was released.
Molins stated that Cheurfi was not on the security watch list and had shown no signs of radicalization despite his many years in prison. He added “(the) investigation will now focus on determining if he had any help from anybody else. This would include anybody that helped plan, provided the weapon or that provided any finical assistance.” Molins added, “that at this stage of the investigation, no link with the radical Islamist movement was apparent,” but investigators will continue to look for any possible links to anybody else that may have had prior knowledge of the attack.
After authorities searched the vehicle that was used in the Champs-Elysées attack, police found a pump-action shotgun and knives. Police are investigating how the attacker obtained the Kalashnikov rifle that was used in the attack.
Cheurfi had been previously convicted of three attempted murders; two against police officers after an incident in 2001. He shot at one policeman and a civilian after a car chase and, while in custody, grabbed another officer’s gun and fired at him. Cheurfi was sentenced to 20 years. He won an appeal in 2005 and left prison in 2013. In July 2014, he was sentenced to four years for violent robbery but was released the following year.
Neighbors in the eastern suburb of Chelles, where Cheurfi lived with his mother, described him as someone “who had lost all reason” and was “psychologically very damaged”, and said he had never been seen at the local mosque. A man called Abdel told AFP that Cheurfi “hated the police and France,” and further stated that he may have been radicalized in prison but seemed an unlikely recruit to ISIS.
Police searched Cheurfi’s family home on Friday. Le Parisien and other media reported that the address matched that of the owner of the car used in the attack, an Audi 80. Cheurfi was shot dead by police while trying to flee on foot after the attack. Officers found handwritten messages defending ISIS, addresses of police establishments and a Koran by his body.
The Islamic State propaganda agency Amaq released a statement claiming that the attacker (Cheurfi ) was one of the Islamic State’s fighters. The ISIS statement named the attacker as Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki, or “the Belgian”, raising initial concerns that a second attacker could be on the loose, since Cheurfi was registered as a French national. French authorities said on Friday a citizen of Belgium was thought to have traveled to France on Thursday and had turned himself in to police in Antwerp where he had been arrested.
A source close to the French investigation said the 35-year-old Belgian man, described as “very dangerous”, had been sought by his country’s police as part of a separate investigation.
Hours before the Paris assault, Belgian police reportedly found weapons, balaclavas and a ticket for a train to France departing on Thursday morning. But the Belgian interior minister, Jan Jambon, said this was “certainly not the guy who committed the crime yesterday”.
In France, three people known to Cheurfi were arrested during overnight raids in the eastern suburbs of Paris and were being questioned by anti-terror police, judicial sources said.
Molins identified the Police Officer that was killed in the attack as 37-year-old, Xavier Jugele. Jugele had been a Paris Police Officer since 2010. Jugele was described by his friends and family as a proud gay rights activist, who was committed to his job as a police officer. He was among the officers who responded to a terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015, and he was in the crowd when Sting helped reopen the 19th-century building a year later.
France has been under a state of emergency for nearly 18 months, with more than 230 people killed in jihadi attacks over the past two years.
Charlie Hebdo magazine was struck in January 2015, while gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people at the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France and in bars and restaurants in Paris that November. In July 2016, a truck attack in Nice left 86 people dead.
Thursday’s deadly attack was the first in the country since a priest was killed last July, but fits a recent pattern in France of attacks on soldiers providing security at prominent locations around Paris, including at the Louvre museum in February and Orly airport last month.
Witnesses to the attack described chaotic scenes on the Champs Elysées, Paris’s best-known avenue. “We had to hide our customers in the basement,” said Choukri Chouanine, manager of a restaurant near the site of the shooting. A German tourist was slightly wounded.
The two police officers injured in the attack are out of danger, the interior ministry
spokesman, Pierre-Henry Brandet, said, and were visited in the hospital by the outgoing president, François Hollande, and senior government officials.
A national police spokesman, Jerome Bonet, said there were thousands of people on the Champs Elysées when the gunman opened fire and that the rapid response of officers who shot and killed him avoided possible “carnage”.
The Champs Élysées reopened on Friday, having been sealed off for much of Thursday night as police ordered tourists back into hotels and blocked people from approaching the scene. Emergency vehicles blocked access and metro stations were closed.