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Man Fires at French Leader During Parade

Europe: President Jacques Chirac is unhurt in the incident. Police describe the suspect as an apparently deranged right-wing extremist.

July 15, 2002|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — A gunman described as a neo-Nazi attempted to assassinate French President Jacques Chirac during a Bastille Day parade Sunday, but spectators and police subdued the suspect after he fired an errant shot with a rifle.

No one was injured and the parade continued uninterrupted, authorities said.

Police said the suspect was a 25-year-old student affiliated with neo-Nazi and skinhead movements. He admitted to the assassination attempt during an interrogation and was placed in a psychiatric jail ward because of apparent mental problems, authorities said. Police did not identify him, but media reports gave his name as Maxime Brunerie.

The incident took place about 9:55 a.m. as Chirac's open military jeep passed the Arc de Triomphe and approached the Champs-Elysees, the French capital's showcase boulevard.

The faint crack of the .22-caliber rifle was audible in the circular plaza, which was lined with tanks, soldiers and uniformed and plainclothes police for the parade celebrating France's national holiday.

It was not clear how close the bullet came to the president. Chirac, the general with whom he was riding and soldiers standing at attention for presidential review did not visibly react to the shot, which was fired about 100 yards away.

Television footage showed riot police pinning a man with close-cropped hair to the cement and then rushing him into a police van. Plainclothes police carried away the guitar case he allegedly used to conceal the rifle, which authorities said was purchased last week and was loaded with five bullets.

Chirac made no comment about the incident. But the president's wife, Bernadette, later told reporters that there was no doubt that the gunman wanted to kill the president.

An Interior Ministry official described the incident as the act of an apparently deranged extremist who tried to take his own life as he was being captured.

"It was an assassination attempt," said Patrick Devedjian of the Interior Ministry. "He fired a first shot.... Then he was overcome and tried to turn the weapon against himself."

Spectators were the first to grab the gunman after he produced the rifle from the guitar case and took aim, witnesses said.

"I was watching the parade from behind the metal barriers," 50-year-old Mohamed Chelali, a French Canadian tourist accompanied by his wife and three children, said in a television interview. "Mr. Chirac was passing by in his vehicle when I felt a movement in the crowd on my right. Then I saw, about two or three meters [yards] from me, a man aiming in the direction of the president. Someone next to me hit the shooter's hand, and I grabbed a part of the weapon."

The suspect was already known to police as a member of the Groupe Union Defense, a neo-Nazi, skinhead-style organization known for its aggressiveness, authorities said.

Devedjian described him as being a hard-core extremist "further to the right" than Jean-Marie Le Pen, the combative leader of the far-right National Front party who lost a bitter election to Chirac in May.

There were no immediate signs that the incident was related to politics.

Le Pen condemned the assassination attempt, which came at a time when the French are worried about rising crime and "U.S.-style" violence.

One of Chirac's campaign pledges was to curb violent crimes, such as a brazen robbery that took place last month on the Champs-Elysees, one of the busiest and best-policed streets in France, just a few blocks from the scene of the assassination attempt.

During the robbery, masked bandits carrying AK-47 assault rifles robbed a currency exchange on a Saturday afternoon and took a U.S. tourist hostage as they escaped in a car, pushing her out of the vehicle unhurt minutes later.

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