The Cable

Trump Weighs in on French Election After Paris Terror Attack

U.S. president appears to favor the far-right Le Pen in the race.

france crop

U.S. President Donald Trump elbowed his way into the French presidential elections in the only way he knows how: Twitter. A day after a terror attack in Paris that left one dead and three wounded, Trump took to the social media site to weigh in.

“Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!” Trump wrote Friday morning. Trump lathered more praise on the candidate in an interview with Associated Press later Friday, saying she is the “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” (Though he stopped short of endorsing her explicitly.)

There’s a lot riding on the French election. The far-right and anti-EU Marine Le Pen and three other candidates — Francois Fillon, Jean-Luc Melenchon, and Emmanuel Macron — are in a neck and neck race that ends Sunday, when French take to the polls for the first round of voting. Le Pen, who has ridden a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, has vowed to withdraw France from the European Union and shut its borders to immigrants.

Terrorism has also been a major campaign issue after a spate high-profile and deadly terror attacks in recent years. On Thursday, a gunman wielding an assault rifle with purported links to the Islamic State killed one police officer and wounded three others before being shot dead on Paris’s famous Champs Elysees boulevard. The attack came conspicuously in the middle of a primetime televised debate for the four frontrunners and seven other presidential candidates, spurring speculation the assailant, Karim Cheurfi, was actively trying to sway the election.

The candidates learned about the attack on air, and adjusted their closing remarks accordingly. “Enough of laxism, enough of naivety,” Le Pen said. “The fight against terrorism must be the absolute priority of the next French president.” Le Pen blamed “radical Islam” for the attack in a follow-up statement Friday, the last day candidates are allowed to campaign before Sunday’s vote.

Pollsters warned a last-minute event could impact the tight race, and some French political analysts predicted the latest attack inch up Le Pen’s poll numbers. Her campaign lost steam in recent weeks as centrist, pro-EU Macron gained ground.

Macron’s final debate remarks starkly juxtaposed Le Pen. “They want France to be afraid; they want to disrupt the democratic process; they want the French to yield to unreasonableness and division,” he said. “Our challenge is to protect the French, not to give up who we are, to stay unified and build a future.”

ISIS claimed credit for the attack within hours. Police found a note defending ISIS ideology next to Cheurfi’s body. On Friday, French prosecutors announced Cheurfi had four prior criminal convictions for crimes including attempted murder.

He had spent 15 years in prison and was released in October, 2015. Police said they briefly detained him in February after they received reports he was collecting guns and planning to harm police, but at the time they said they found no links to Islamic extremism.

Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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