How are citizens supposed to detect fake news when the real news is so bizarre? How did Karim Cheurfi, born 31 December 1977 à Livry-Gargan (Seine-St. Denis outskirts of Paris) achieve his lifetime dream of killing a policeman despite the “vigilance” of the courts and law enforcement? How did he manage to do it on the Champs Elysées smack in the middle of the final all- candidate show of a problematical presidential campaign? How could this emblematic attack not influence the results of the first-round vote on April 23rd?
The final 11-candidate show
Because several of the leading candidates refused to participate in a last-minute debate, France 2 organized an 11-piece candidate show on the 21st of April. Expecting a routine replay of all that had gone before, bottom-heavy with the obligatory presence of all 11 candidates, I faced up to my self-imposed obligation to miss nothing, follow everything, dig everywhere, and think uninterruptedly.
In fact, it was more interesting than the “debates” that channel candidates into one-minute statements on contrived questions. In the close up 15-minute segments with each candidate in turn, hosts David Pujadas and Lea Salomé were less intrusive, the candidates were more expansive, and….one hour into the broadcast, Pujadas announced the “terrorist attack” on the Champs Elysées. Yes, from the first flash, authorities labeled the attack with the code word terrorist meaning jihad. From that point on, candidates integrated into their 15-minute slot a spontaneous reaction to the breaking news. I reported details as they emerged in updates to Part 3 of this series.
As the broadcast came to an end, all 11 candidates lined up in the studio and gave 2-minute closing statements. With the exception of Marine Le Pen and François Fillon, they were incapable of integrating the sudden intervention of harsh reality. After a brief expression of condolence for the family of the slain policeman and wishes for the prompt recovery of his wounded colleagues, they each delivered the vote-for-me speech they had prepared in advance. Le Pen, Fillon, and Macron announced cancellation of events scheduled for the following day, Friday, the last day of the campaign.
Special Edition (= Breaking News)
Midnight. Switch to the Champs Elysées, thick with police vans and flashing blue lights, reminding me of the scene on bd. Beaumarchais on the fateful night of November 13, 2015. As if the central nervous system of Paris were emitting an alert of immediate massive danger. Details emerged, some confirmed others corrected the following day. A policeman died instantly, shot in the head as he sat at the wheel of his van. Another critically wounded, a third less seriously hit. The assailant shot dead before he could kill anyone else. Already identified, his ID is in the Audi he drove up to his private little killing field. For the purposes of the investigation, his name would not yet be released. Daesh took claim for the attack but something doesn’t fit, they identify the soldier as Belgian. Is there another one on the way?
The previous arrest of two jihad hopefuls ready to strike in Marseille did not get the attention it deserved. This studied avoidance is a familiar practice of French media. We know the reasoning: uh-oh terrorist attack, might be to the advantage of Le Pen and Fillon and disadvantage peace & love Macron, so let’s not talk about it. Kamil Cheurfi’s exploit could not be ignored. Especially as details of the determined cop killer’s CV rolled out. He spent 14 of the past 16 years in jail. It started in 2001 when the stolen car he was driving collided with a vehicle driven by a rookie policeman and his brother. Cheurfi broke and ran, the two men chased him down and when they got close, he fired, wounding both of them seriously in the chest. While in detention for this crime he tricked a gendarme into entering his cell, grabbed his gun, and shot at him. All three of these victims survived. In 2008 he was charged with assaulting a prison guard and attacking a cellmate in 2009. Authorities recently received an alert from an acquaintance of Cheurfi: he said he wants to kill policemen because they ruined his life. Because they didn’t let him get away with the stolen car? Drawing him into a vicious circle?
Friday morning, Marine Le Pen and François Fillon made statements from their respective headquarters. Le Pen was as usual emotional, bombastic, long-winded and all over the place. She solemnly enjoined the government to take immediate measures to seal the frontiers, stop all immigration, deport bi-national terror risks, close radical mosques, a whole program of things it never did and can’t do now, two weeks before vacating the premises. She accused the government of doing nothing and claimed she could have done everything. Last night’s shooting, the Mohamed Merah massacre, and everything in between would never have happened if she were president. After spending most of her campaign touting ridiculous retrograde isolationist protectionism, she splattered her fire at Islam.
Shortly after Le Pen’s speech, François Fillon spoke briefly, soberly, and to the point, rightfully reminding voters that he has been warning about Islamic totalitarianism for years, published a book on the subject as he entered the primary campaign, gave it a prominent role in his program and campaign, and will combat it with an iron fist as president. He emphasized that we must be armed politically, militarily, and ideologically; the aim of this totalitarian movement is to destroy our civilization. He outlined measures that will be taken: control our frontiers, maintain the state of emergency, reinforce the police and military, improve intelligence services, tighten the judicial response to security risks, increase prison capacity, and form a strong coalition to defeat Daesh abroad. Curiously, he includes Iran in this coalition. When he is president, I hope he will give another thought to that one.
The same polls that almost kicked François Fillon into 5th position credited him with 30% the first week after he won his party’s nomination. The same journalists and commentators that spent two months rubbing his nose in scandals that wouldn’t have caused a ripple 2 years ago, wondered how the terrorism issue had managed to slip out of the campaign only to enter with a bang on the Champs Elysées at the eleventh hour. In fact, every time Fillon had tried to talk about The Issue, they pulled him back to The Scandals. If François Fillon is really polling at 20% someone has to explain where the other 10% of voter intention went. To Marine Le Pen? Nothing can be excluded, but it would be so irrational. No one who is truly on the Right could swallow her Mélenchon-friendly economic program. No one who understands what it means to use political power could believe that Marine Le Pen would be capable of leading a modern nation through international mine fields.
Did the Center-Right inch over to Emmanuel Macron? He intervened at 12:45 with a stiff wooden declaration, so carefully calculated it sounded like it was concocted with social media tools-key words, emotion stickers, reassurance with a capital R. First, he promised to create a task force (in English in the text), and then went into a riff of I’ll be relentless in the DEFENSE of your SECURITY, I’ll PROTECT you, don’t let
FEAR influence your choice, I will bring UNITY with my PROGRESSIVE project, I will transform our society by CULTURE and EDUCATION. He managed to pronounce the words “radical Islam” once without choking. And he got in a swipe at “the one who” (Sarkozy) weakened our intelligence gathering services.
This was followed by an astounding faux pas on the part of the outgoing prime minister. His intervention was so shocking that it produced uninhibited reactions from journalists and invited guests. Whatever their personal preferences, they were simply astonished that Hollande would stoop so low as to send his PM onto the battlefield to shore up the wavering wunderkind Macron. A righteously indignant Cazeneuve denounced the indecency of Marine Le Pen and François Fillon trying to make political hay of a tragic incident on the Champs Elysées.
It is these terrible low moments that should make us grateful for our albeit imperfect democracies: In a dictatorship the prime minister would have sent goons to arrest the two unwanted candidates. Or have them shot then and there.
The short unhappy life of Karim Cheurfi
As is his wont, Paris prosecutor François Molins began his statement to the press Friday afternoon on a philosophical note: this tragic event teaches us humility. Understood as- one attempt foiled, one that slipped through the armor. Then he recited like a Zen monk at a funeral the verified facts of the case. The weapons found in a sports bag in the trunk of the car, including a koran. The weapons found in the killer’s lodgings, plus the IT material, plus a prayer rug and koran. (Of course acquaintances said he was not religious, just a loner). His various crimes and convictions. He spent 14 of the past 16 years in prison. Four convictions. Shooting at the rookie policeman in 2001, shooting at the gendarme, attacking his cellmate and, recently, breaking and entering, theft, disorderly conduct… The math is a bit complicated. Apparently released several years before the end of the first 15-year sentence, sentenced to 2 years of prison and 2 years suspended sentence for the latest crime, he was under surveillance while preparing to finally kill policemen.
Maître Jean-Laurent Panier, the lawyer who defended him in the last case, doesn’t think his client was religious or radicalized; his problem is psychological. He was a loner. His family tried to help but didn’t succeed. Cheurfi’s mother, born in Algeria, is divorced from his father and from her second husband, a “Frenchman.” The lawyer complains that his client didn’t get proper psychiatric treatment while on parole. Maître Panier happened to be on the Champs Elysées Thursday night, not far from N° 102 where Xavier Jugelé the murdered policeman was stationed to protect the Turkish tourist association. Yes, the lawyer had given it a thought-he might have been collateral damage in the shooting. I don’t know if he gave it a thought that Xavier Jugelé might be still alive if he hadn’t got his client off with a suspended sentence.
Furious grieving law enforcement
Law enforcement is fed up. State of emergency, Nuit Debout, weekly demonstrations against the el Khomri labor reform, targeted by violent anarchists, jihadists, union radicals and misguided kids. Thousands of policemen injured, several almost burned alive, a police couple savagely slaughtered, and now this…
Kamil Cheurfi was briefly detained in February after authorities were alerted to his plans to kill policemen in revenge for what France was doing in Syria. He was reportedly contacting jihadists and trying to procure weapons. His lodgings were searched (he lived in a sort of add-on to his mother’s home), some IT material was confiscated, his phone was tapped, he was watched. In the absence of any sign of radicalization, he was released. Though he had spent a month in Algeria from mid-January to mid-February without informing the surveillance officer, he was not sent back to prison.
Dominique Riset of BFM TV read passages from the police report. I don’t think he invented it! Asked to explain why he had purchased-via Amazon of course-two hunting knives, a go-pro camera, and a fencing mask, Cheurfi said the knives were to cut fish and the mask was for a carnival disguise. Further, the report states that the ex-convict did say he wanted to kill policemen but did not target any specific policeman by name. There was no evidence whatsoever of any psychiatric problem. The trip to Algeria? He went there to get married. N.B. Mohamed Merah used the same excuse for his extended visits to jihad territory in the Middle East. Nevertheless a new investigation was initiated on March 3rd for “self-radicalization.” Nevertheless, he was able to procure weapons and turn the Champs Elysées into one more battleground.
The ineluctable reality of the pollsters
Pollsters, journalists, and commentators spent the day speculating on the eventual influence on voters of the last-minute terrorist attack. They more or less agreed that it might cause a very slight shift here and there, but nothing dramatic. No upset. Pollsters seem to be more sure of themselves than ever. Almost smug. Whatever you think, ladies and gentlemen, we know what will be on the menu Sunday night. You might be trembling with suspense, but we’re endowed with the scientific tools of political fortune telling. You had a bash at the outdoor snack & drink with Jean-Luc (Mélenchon) and his Podemos compadre on Friday when the bigshot candidates were cowering in their headquarters but we know your guy is not going to make it to the 2nd round. You think, monsieur ‘dame, that François Fillon, having overcome the handicap of Penelopegate and all the etcetera, will ride to victory on the white stallion of his decades of political experience, enjoy your pipe dreams. Sunday night it’s going to be Macron and Le Pen. You can throw your big data analysis in the trash file.
Social 1st round
The CGT (Communist labor union) and associates are helping themselves to a “social 1 round” this Saturday, the day before voters go to the polls. Apparently the government authorized the demonstration at Place de la République, despite the state of emergency, despite the fact that law enforcement is stretched thin, despite the risk of violence and vandalism by anarchist fringe elements. They’re in the streets with sound systems and slogans, determined “to impose their demands” on candidates and voters combined.
Last week, a modest demonstration by Kabyles yearning for independence went unnoticed. We’re fed up, they told me, with that repressive Algerian government. I asked if they get support from any political forces in France. Nothing, they replied. And we are good citizens. We integrate, we support the nation, we obey the law and even if we’re Muslim we aren’t extremists We live and let live. The Kabyle increasingly insist on the distinction between themselves and Algerians