Thwarted attack rattles France days before presidential vote

Andrew Cummings
April 18, 2017

Two men have been arrested in Marseilles and accused of preparing an "imminent violent attack" in the run-up to Sunday's presidential election, French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl told CNN's French affiliate, BFM.

"These two radicalised men. intended to commit in the very short-term - by that I mean in the coming days - an attack on French soil", Fekl told a news conference.

Extremism concerns shook France's presidential campaign Tuesday as authorities announced arrests in what they said was a thwarted attack and candidates urged tougher counterterrorism efforts for a country already under a state of emergency.

Comments by officials indicated that former prime minister Francois Fillon, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen - three leading contenders - were among those warned of a security risk.

According to a source close to the probe, the two suspects are aged 23 and 29, and they have been taken into custody by French domestic intelligence service agents.

Neither Fekl nor police gave any precise details of what attacks the pair had been planning and whether they were intending to target one or more of the election candidates.

For over a year, Marine Le Pen has been the front-runner for the first round of French Presidential elections on April 23. "We do not want to live under the rule or threat of Islamic fundamentalism", Le Pen said earlier this year.

Macron struck a tough, but conciliatory tone.

But he added that " a challenge that calls upon us more than anything else to come together, because the terrorists wish nothing more than our division".

While radical leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and conservative ex-premier Francois Fillon have also gained ground, transforming the election into a tight four-way race.

Those on the right have been particularly vocal, seeking to appeal to voters traumatized by IS-inspired attacks that have killed at least 235 people in France since January 2015, by far the largest casualty rate of any Western country.

During Le Pen's speech, one young woman jumped on the stage and was immediately carried away by security and a topless woman later shouted out from the middle of the concert hall in an apparent protest against the candidate.

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