The 39-year-old French national who shot and killed a police officer in Paris just days before the nation’s presidential vote was armed to the teeth, had a long criminal record and spent more than a decade in prison for other violent crimes, including trying to attack cops, officials say.

Karim Cheurfi, a Frenchman born in the Paris suburbs who had been arrested as recently as February, sent terrified Parisians scrambling for cover Thursday after opening fire on a police bus with an assault rifle on the Champs-Elysees. Before being shot and killed by police, Cheurfi killed one officer, who he hit twice in the head, and wounded two others.

Thursday’s shootings followed the arrest this week of two men in Marseille on suspicion of plotting an attack around tomorrow’s hotly contested first-round presidential vote, fueling France’s worst fear: a terrorist attack as crowds gather at polling stations across the nation.

Polls suggest a tight race among the four top contenders, with far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen — who rails at France’s Socialist government for being lax on crime — and Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, in the lead. Conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon appeared to be closing the gap.

Security forces investigating the scene of the shooting say they found a note praising the Islamic State — which claimed responsibility for the attack — as well as scraps of paper with the addresses of security sites and police stations and a satchel containing weapons, munitions and the Muslim holy book in his car.

The shooting mirrored recent attacks on French soldiers at prominent locations around Paris: at the Louvre museum in February and at Paris’ Orly airport last month.

Cheurfi’s former lawyer, Jean-Laurent Panier, said his client most likely had “psychological” problems that he didn’t get proper help for.

The policeman Cheurfi killed was identified as Xavier Jugele by a French association of LGBT police officers. Its president, Mickael Bucheron, said Jugele would have celebrated his 38th birthday at the beginning of May. Jugele was among the officers who responded to the gun-and-bomb attack on Paris’ Bataclan concert hall on Nov. 13, 2015.

Police officers gathered at the spot where their colleague was killed yesterday to lay flowers and say farewell. “This is the moment of paying respect, solidarity and support,” said Dennis Jacob of the Alternative Police Union. “To express our sadness and anger facing this new attack in which one of our own has died for France, serving the French population.”

Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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