Terrorism Back in Focus in French Election After Foiled Attack

  • Five main French presidential candidates to debate Monday
  • Army forces killed a gunman at Orly airport on Saturday

Terrorism returned to the forefront of the French presidential election on Sunday after a foiled attack at Orly airport. 

The assailant snatched a weapon from an officer in the south terminal on Saturday before being shot and killed by a special army patrol. The incident, which is being probed by an anti-terrorism prosecutor, prompted the candidates to address security in a country that’s seen multiple attacks in recent years.

French firefighters and RAID police unit officers secure Paris’ Orly airport on March 18.

Photographer: Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images

Front-runner Emmanuel Macron, who at 39 is the youngest candidate, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that he would bolster security forces by 10,000 positions and make military service mandatory. The leading contenders hold a debate on Monday night and may turn on Macron over security to erode his support.

Macron “is seen as lacking experience and a bit too young,” Bruno Jeanbart, deputy chief executive of French pollster Opinionway, said in a phone interview Sunday. “While that might be appealing from an economic and societal point of view, it’s a deterrent when it comes to security matters.”

The airport attack followed a high-school shooting in southern France and put security concerns back in the spotlight after weeks that had largely centered on an alleged-corruption scandal surrounding the Republicans’ candidate, Francois Fillon.

Independent Macron is tied in surveys of first-round voting intentions
with the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.

France Presidential Election Voting Intention: Summary (Table)

“This is a major project for society, one of citizenship, that is intended to make our democracy more united and increase our collective resilience,” Macron said on Saturday of his plans to bring make military service compulsory.

Le Pen also used her weekend campaign stops to focus on security. She blasted Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, saying he’s “busier fighting me” than confronting terrorism. In an interview with France 3 television, she vowed to raise France’s defense budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2018. Jeanbart said Le Pen stands to gain if Monday’s debate turns to security because she’s viewed more favorably on the issue.

Saturday’s attack was the second on security forces this year. In February, soldiers were attacked near the Louvre museum in Paris. France’s terrorism alert remains at its highest level. The country has been under state of emergency rule since December 2015.

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