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Paris Attack, French Elections, Heads And Hearts

Police forces on Paris' Champs Elysees on April 20
Police forces on Paris' Champs Elysees on April 20
Sruthi Gottipati and Bertrand Hauger

-Analysis-

PARIS — Warnings about an imminent terrorist attack had hung ominously in the air in the final weeks of the French presidential election. On Tuesday, police arrested two suspects in the southern city of Marseille after finding a cache of weapons and bomb-making ingredients in their apartment. But with the world focused on French politics like never before, that spectre of terrorism crashing into the political campaign became a disturbing reality last night in the French capital.

Already hit by two major terrorist attacks in the past three years, Paris was struck again — less than 72 hours before polls open Sunday. A gunman, possibly linked to terror group ISIS, shot dead a police officer and wounded two others on the iconic Champs Elysées shopping street. French newspaper Le Monde reported that the shooter, who was killed in a firefight with police, is Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old French citizen.

Le Parisien"s April 20 front page

Voters will now go to the polls on Sunday in a highly unpredictable race, with four of the 11 candidates within striking distance of making the two-person runoff in May. A Le Monde editorial this morning said the attack might benefit far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has made the threat of Islamist extremism and immigration her main talking points. Last Monday, she even claimed there would have been no terror assaults in France under her watch. If history has shown any precedent, the far right may indeed get a boost. After terror attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, that killed 130 people, Le Pen's National Front party had its strongest ever showing in regional elections.

The fight against extremism cannot be won overnight.

Bruno Jeanbart, head of polling institute OpinionWay told French daily Le Figaro that last night's attack "reactivates themes on which Marine Le Pen is already well positioned." And though Jeanbart points out that the Nov. 13 attacks were "much more powerful" than the Champs Elysées one, the latter still "puts the end of the campaign back on national matters' — a development that could benefit rightwing contenders like Le Pen.

Le Pen, reacting to the attacks this morning, said that France needs to tighten its borders and deport all foreigners on the terror watchlist. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist candidate just ahead of her in the polls, cautioned against giving into fear and noted that the fight against extremism cannot be won overnight.Le Parisiendaily described the two reactions as "diametrically opposed."

It's hard to overstate how high the stakes are Sunday. But like with all elections, we can be sure that some in France will vote with their head, others with their heart.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Dnipro, A Heinous Attack Sparks Hard Questions About Weapon Supplies — On Both Sides

After Dnipro was left devastated by one of Russia’s deadliest attacks on Ukrainian civilians to date, the problem of arms delivery in a war that keeps escalating has never been more urgent.

Photo France's AMX-10 RC light tanks

France will be sending AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine, but has not committed to heavy combat tanks.

Gouhier Nicolas/Abaca via ZUMA
Pierre Haski

The Russian missile that struck a residential building on Saturday afternoon in Dnipro killed at least 40 people, a number that keeps growing as bodies are discovered under the rubble in the central Ukrainian city. It appears to be a war crime with no legitimate target near the neighborhood.

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This bombing is also particularly informative about what’s happening right now on the Russian side of the war: The KH-22 cruise missile used is designed to sink an aircraft carrier, the biggest one in Moscow’s arsenal.

This precision missile was fired from an aircraft hundreds of miles away and has no link whatsoever to the target.

This enormous gap between the type of missile used and its ultimate target might actually reveal a missile scarcity in Russia, after weeks of continuous bombing in Ukraine. Tapping into strategic Russian weaponry (the KH-22 can be equipped with nuclear warheads) can never be justified considering the innocence of the target. Russian arms plants running at full capacity, for the time being at least, cannot keep up supplies.

But this tragic strike is also a clear sign of a progressive escalation in a war that, at this stage, shows no signs it can be stopped.

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