- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

PARIS A man described as an emotionally disturbed neo-Nazi tried to assassinate French President Jacques Chirac yesterday, pulling a rifle from a guitar case and firing off a shot before being wrestled to the ground during a Bastille Day parade.
There were no reported injuries. It was not immediately clear how close the shot came to Mr. Chirac, who was passing about 130 to 160 feet away in an open-top jeep near the Arch of Triumph as he reviewed troops in a military parade to celebrate France's national holiday.
As the gunman pulled a fully loaded .22-caliber rifle out of a brown guitar case, the crowd along the tree-lined edge of the Champs-Elysees began shouting, apparently alerting police who rushed in and tackled him.
"I saw a guy with a gun," said a witness, Mohammed Chelali, who told LCI television that he and other members of the crowd helped subdue the man.
Another man knocked the rifle out of the attacker's hand, and "I threw myself forward, grabbed the gun and then everyone started calling: 'Police, police,'" Mr. Chelali said. His account was not immediately confirmed by officials.
Paris police said in a statement that the man, 25, whom they did not identify, was a member of "neo-Nazi and hooligan" groups.
An officer close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the gunman was linked to a far-right student group, the Groupe Union Defense, and has a history of psychiatric problems. Police later transferred the man to a psychiatric facility, French television and radio networks said.
"It was an assassination attempt," said a government minister, Patrick Devedjian. "He admitted he wanted to kill the president." Mr. Devedjian, who is under the interior minister, said the gunman tried to shoot himself while being overcome.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said the rifle was bought last week.
The man's motives for attacking Mr. Chirac were not immediately known. Mr. Chirac crushed his far-right opponent, National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the second round of France's presidential election in May, winning 82 percent of the vote and a second term.
Mr. Devedjian said the gunman was from "the extreme, extreme right, even further right than the National Front."
Mr. Le Pen denied any connection to the gunman and condemned "all assassination attempts aimed at the representative of the state."
"I was sure that if a madman one day fired at the president, then it would be said in one way or another that he was from the extreme right," Mr. Le Pen said.
Despite the attack, the Bastille Day parade, a colorful pageant with troops, armored vehicles and aircraft roaring overhead, continued uninterrupted.
The man was arrested at the top of the Champs-Elysees, where it empties into Place Charles de Gaulle, site of the famous Arch of Triumph. He managed to reach the flag-bedecked Champs-Elysees despite heavy security. Police lined the avenue along the route.
In a traditional televised interview after the parade, Mr. Chirac was not asked about the assassination attempt and did not mention it.
He called for a radical tightening of France's asylum laws, more effective measures against smugglers of illegal immigrants and a stronger French military.
Mr. Chirac's electoral triumph in May was followed in June by legislative elections won by his conservative allies, ending five years of Socialist government that had restricted the president's power to act.
"I want to act now with determination and, I would say, with enthusiasm," Mr. Chirac said yesterday.


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