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News Wrap: Attack puts Paris on high alert, days before the election

April 20, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
In our news wrap Thursday, Paris remains on high alert after a gunman killed one policeman and wounded two more before killing himself. The attack comes just three days before voting begins in France’s presidential election. Also, President Trump reignited his attack on Iran Thursday during a news conference with Italy’s prime minister, calling the 2015 nuclear deal a “terrible agreement.”
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Paris is on high alert again, after a gunman killed one policeman and wounded two more, before being killed himself. The attack came just three days before voting starts in France’s presidential election.

The sitting president, Francois Hollande, said all indications are that it was terror-related. Authorities sealed off the area after the incident on the famed Champs Elysees. It happened near a subway station in an area popular with tourists.

CHELLOUG, Eyewitness (through interpreter): It was a terrorist. He came out with a Kalashnikov and started shooting. He could’ve shot us on the pavement and killed more people with a spray of shots, but he targeted the policemen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Washington, President Trump called the killings a terrible thing and said it looks like another terrorist attack.

We get more now from special correspondent Malcolm Brabant, who’s in Paris. He spoke with us moments ago via Skype.

Malcolm, what’s the latest that we know?

MALCOLM BRABANT: The latest information we have is that the Islamic State (INAUDIBLE) is now claiming responsibility for this attack in the Champs Elysees.

At least, they’re claiming responsibility here a couple hours after this gunman opened fire with what we believe was a Kalashnikov on police officers who were sitting in a van near the Champs Elysees, which is this main boulevard that goes through Paris.

The latest information that we have is that one policemen have been killed, two have been wounded. The gunman himself was shot dead. But he was known to the authorities. The police have been carrying out a raid on his home to find out more information.

The French president, Francois Hollande, has also called a meeting of his security chiefs to work out what the implications are for this attack. And it’s of utmost importance for this country, because it’s going to the polls in three days’ time, and tensions are extremely high.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s two sort of important pieces of context here, that, one, is that there was a thwarted attack just a little while ago. And you were actually out with one of the candidates at a rally when that happened.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Yes.

There was a raid on a couple of men in Marseille. The police were made aware that an attack was imminent, and they arrested two Islamists who had proclaimed loyalty to the Islamic State. They seized a bunch of weapons, a whole load of ammunition, and some homemade explosives.

And they may have been going into court. And the fear was that they were going to attack one of the candidates. At the time that these arrests were made, I was down in the city of Dijon, where Jean-Luc Melenchon, the hard-left candidate, was speaking.

And what he was trying to say to French people was that these people were criminals, that people shouldn’t be afraid, that there should be vigorous debate, and that the freedom of the French people shouldn’t be impinged by this.

But, nevertheless, this particular shooting, and also those arrests in Marseille have shown that the Islamists are serious, that they perhaps want to disrupt this election process. And so that’s going to be making people extremely nervous on Sunday, when they go to put their ballots in the boxes.

But the police and the army are basically saying that there will be about 50,000 people out on the streets of Paris alone to try to make sure that this election goes off as smoothly as possible.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Malcolm Brabant joining via Skype from Paris tonight, thanks so much.

In the day’s other news: The president renewed his attack on Iran and the nuclear deal struck in 2015. At a White House news conference with Italy’s prime minister, he called it a terrible agreement and sharply criticized Tehran.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement. I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully. And we will have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future. But Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement, and they have to do that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier this week, the administration told Congress that Iran is complying, at least technically, with the terms of the deal.

In Russia, the Supreme Court today banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the government labeled them an extremist group. Russia is home to more than 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have been the target of a crackdown, but they say they will appeal the court’s decision. Human Rights Watch calls it a blow to religious freedoms in Russia.

General Motors has halted operations in Venezuela after its factory there was seized by the socialist government. It’s the latest in a series of such incidents. In a statement, the automaker said it strongly rejects the arbitrary measures and will vigorously take all legal actions to defend its rights.

Vice President Pence today praised Indonesia as a land of democracy and tolerance, in the latest stop on his Asian tour. He held talks with President Joko Widodo in Jakarta, and said the world’s most populous Muslim nation is an inspiration to the world.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: As the second and third largest democracies in the world, our two countries share many common values, including freedom, the rule of law, human rights, and religious diversity. The United States is proud to partner with Indonesia to promote and protect these values, the birthright of all people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The visit came a day after Islamic conservatives in Jakarta defeated the minority Christian governor in his reelection bid. He’s already on trial for blasphemy against the Koran.

Back in this country, more than 21,000 drug convictions are being thrown out in Massachusetts. The state’s highest court formally approved the move today, the largest single dismissal in American history. A former state drug lab chemist had been accused of tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests.

President Trump has ordered an investigation into whether imported steel from China and elsewhere is hurting national security. He signed the directive with executives from U.S. steelmakers looking on. The results of the probe could let him curb steel imports under a 1960s trade law.

And on Wall Street, stocks rallied on upbeat earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 174 points to close at 20578. The Nasdaq rose 53 points, and the S&P 500 added 17.

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