Paris attack: Champs-Elysees suspect was jailed for shooting police and subject of terror investigation

Lizzie Dearden, Lucy Pasha-Robinson

The man believed to be responsible for Thursday’s terror attack in Paris was previously investigated for terrorism threats and jailed for shooting police officers, it has been confirmed.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins officially named Karim Cheurfi, 39, as the perpetrator of the Champs-Elysees attack during a press conference on Friday.

Cheurfi lived with his family in the suburb of Chelles, where his home has been shut off by counter-terror investigators. A hunting licence application, a sawn-off shotgun and a rifle butt were among a number of possessions seized from the property by police, according to local media.

Three of his relatives were detained in the operation, although police stressed the move was standard procedure for questioning.

Cheurfi was previously jailed for attempted murders that saw him shoot two police officers – one during a car chase in 2001 and a second days later when he shot an officer after seizing his gun in custody, Le Parisien reported.

At a trial in 2003, he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and it was unclear when he was released.

He was also arrested in February as part of a counter-terror investigation – reportedly for threatening police officers – but was released by the courts the following day due to insufficient evidence.

In January, he reportedly bought two hunting knives, a GoPro and a Scream mask, explaining to police when questioned that the knives were for fishing and the mask was for a carnival.

Police officers search Cheurfi’s family home in the Parisian suburb of Chelles (AFP/Getty)

Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesperson for the French interior ministry, described Cheurfi as an “individual known by the judiciary and police services – a dangerous individual”.

Jan Jambon, the Belgian interior minister, confirmed he was a French national, adding: “He is definitely not a Belgian – could he have had links with Belgians? That is part of the investigation.”

Cheurfi was shot dead at the scene, and an alert was later issued by Belgian security services for a second suspect.

He presented himself at a police station in Antwerp but was found not to be linked to the case, prosecutors said.

Francois Hollande chaired a meeting of the national defence council early on Friday morning, just two days before voting to elect his successor begins.

Speaking afterwards, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve extended a “solemn tribute” to the police and military and said security measures were in place under France’s extended state of emergency.

“Barbarity and cowardice struck Paris last night, as they also recently struck elsewhere in Europe – in Berlin, Stockholm, in London,” he added.

“The whole of Europe is targeted because it represents the values and ideals of peace.”

Mr Cazeneuve called for French citizens “not to succumb to fear”, saying that more than 50,000 police would be protecting Sunday’s vote, with an additional 7,000 soldiers on patrol and intelligence services working “in the shadows”.

Isis claimed responsibility for Thursday night’s attack, saying it was carried out by an “Islamic State fighter” given the war name Abu Yusuf al-Baljiki, indicating he had links to Belgium.

The speed of the claim and the fact the attacker was identified suggests he was in contact with the group and informed militants of his plan in advance.

War names were previously used by Isis to identify the jihadis who carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks, which were coordinated with commanders in Syria

The attack came just days before the French presidential election, following an operation to foil an “imminent” Isis bombing plot that was in an advanced stage of preparation.

Witnesses said a man pulled up in a car behind a police van and opened fire with a Kalashnikov outside a Marks & Spencer’s department store on the famous Champs-Elysees.

One officer was killed and two more injured, as well as a German woman who suffered injuries to her foot.

One of the officers underwent emergency surgery overnight, but an interior ministry official said both injured officers were now “out of danger”.

Local reports said Cheurfi’s car contained a shotgun and a knife, indicating he was preparing for a more extended assault.

It is one of almost a dozen attacks and plots targeting the French security services since 2012, including the murder of a police officer and his wife by an Isis supporter north of Paris, a machete attack outside Le Louvre and an attempted murder at Orly airport.

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