French security services are today facing troubling questions as to how they failed to prevent an ISIS gunman from slaughtering one policeman and wounding two other officers in Paris when he was arrested as recently as February.
Karim Cheurfi, 39, had served 15 years of a 20-year jail sentence for attempting to kill two officers in 2001, before his release last year.
In February, the terrorist tried to obtain weapons and made threats to kill police officers, but was let go in early March due to lack of evidence.
On Thursday night, the fanatic was killed by police after he got out of his Audi and opened fire at police who had stopped at a red light on Champs Elysees. His car was packed with more weapons, including a pump action shotgun and knives. A copy of the Koran was also found in the vehicle.
Traffic officer Xavier Jugele, 37, died instantly with a shot to the head, while the other two were hurt before Cheurfi himself was gunned down by nearby armed police. A ricocheting bullet fired by the terrorist also wounded a female foreign tourist passing by.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack and nicknamed the attacker ‘Abu Yousuf al-Belgiki’, which translates to ‘the Belgian’ in Arabic – a name which was listed in uncovered documents from the terror group last year.
A note declaring allegiance to ISIS was discovered on the Champs Elysees and is being investigated by police. Its presence and the speed at which ISIS claimed responsibility may suggest the attack was directed by the jihadist group rather than carried out by a lone supporter.
Pictured (left and right) is the suspected ISIS gunman, who has been identified locally as 39-year-old Karim Cheurfi
The alleged ISIS gunman, identified as 39-year-old Karim Cheurfi – who was jailed for 20 years for trying to kill officers in 2001 – parked his Audi and opened fire after police stopped at a red light on the world famous avenue. Pictured is his arrest warrant from last month, when he was detained for trying to obtain weapons ‘to kill police’
Traffic officer Xavier Jugele (pictured), 37, died instantly with a shot to the head, while the other two were hurt before Cheurfi himself was gunned down by nearby armed police
Pictured is armed police crowded two other officers, believed to have been shot in the attack, on Champs Elysees on Thursday night
French police leave the home of ISIS gunman Karim Cheurfi in the suburb of Chelles, in Paris, following last night’s attack
A woman places a flower near the spot on the Champs Elysees where the shooting occurred last night in the French capital
A body is removed from the scene after a traffic officer was killed by an ISIS gunman in central Paris last night
French police officers and forensic teams searched a vehicle which was close to the scene on the Champs Elysees in Paris
A police lorry seized the Audi which the attacker was driving, before he got out and shot at traffic officers last night
A still image from video footage shows police forensic investigators inspect the car used by the attacker in Paris last night
In the latest developments after the attack:
- French police have this morning arrested three family members of ISIS gunman Karim Cheurfi
- Police are hunting a second suspect, who was brought to their attention by Belgian authorities
- A man whose image appeared on social media as ‘second suspect’ handed himself to police in Antwerp claiming he was not linked to the plot. Detectives have said this man had nothing to do with the attack
- Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen called for all French terror suspects to be expelled
- France’s government has reviewed its already extensive election security measures and says it is ‘fully mobilised’ and nothing will stop Sunday’s presidential vote
- US President Donald Trump believes the attack will have a ‘big effect’ on the outcome of the election
- British Prime Minister Theresa May has sent condolences to the French president following the latest attack but the pair have not spoken directly since last night
- Iran’s foreign secretary Bahram Ghasemi said France was feeling a blowback for its support of rebels in Syria
French officials revealed that Cheurfi was detained in Meaux, 24 miles east of Paris, on February 23 this year, after it emerged he was trying to buy weapons ‘to kill police’.
On Friday night, but prosecutors tonight denied that he was on a security watch list and added the terrorist showed no signs of radicalisation before the attack.
He reportedly used the alias ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’ and reportedly made threats to murder officers using the social media app Telegram, an instant messaging service.
Despite having a long list of police-hating convictions, he was able to obtain a Kalashnikov, a pump action shotgun and several knives ahead of last night’s attack.
He had been jailed for 20 years in 2005 for trying to kill two policemen. He opened fire five times with a .38 revolver following a car chase in 2001, leaving the officers and a third victim wounded. All three survived the attack in Roissy-en-Brie, in the Seine-et-Marne department of northern France.
An armed police officer hoists his weapon as they storm the streets of Paris after the latest terror attack to hit the city
Armed police outside a shop in central Paris after an ISIS gunman killed a traffic officer and injured three other people
Armed police officers on the streets of Paris after a gunman killed a traffic cop and seriously injured two others last night
Armed police officers stood guard after they rushed to the scene in the centre of the capital following the incident which left frightened witnesses sprinting for their lives
A team of forensic detectives examine the Audi, which the gunman was driving. ID of Karim Cheurfi was found in the vehicle
Cheurfi, who was born in France, was a recluse who blamed police for ruining his life, a friend of the family revealed today.
OFFICER SHOT DEAD GUARDED BATACLAN AT ITS REOPENING
By Sam Tonkin for MailOnline
The policeman killed by an ISIS gunman on the Champs-Elysees was today named as Xavier Jugelé, a 37-year-old Paris officer who defiantly said ‘no to terrorists’ at the reopening of the Bataclan theatre last November.
He was shot in the head when the terrorist – identified today as French national Karim Cheurfi, 39 – launched his attack on three police officers at around 9pm last night.
Jugelé, who was a proud defender of gay rights, was named as the victim who died by French newspaper Le Parisien.
It has since emerged that Jugelé (pictured left and right) was on duty at the reopening of the Bataclan theatre on November last year – a year on from the Paris attacks which left 130 dead
It has since emerged that Jugelé was on duty at the reopening of the Bataclan theatre on November last year – a year on from the Paris attacks which left 130 dead.
As British singer Sting marked the occasion with a performance at the concert hall, Jugelé defiantly told PEOPLE.com that he was there ‘to say no to terrorists’.
The policeman added: ‘I’m happy to be here. Glad the Bataclan is reopening. It’s symbolic.
‘We’re here tonight as witnesses. Here to defend our civic values. This concert’s to celebrate life. To say no to terrorists.
‘It doesn’t feel strange, it feels important,’ he added. ‘Symbolic.’
He did not attend formal mosque prayer services and became fascinated by jihadist propaganda via the internet, a confident of his mother claimed.
‘Karim did not pray, he drank alcohol and watched jihadist propaganda,’ neighbour Hakim, 50, told MailOnline.
‘He was not a good Muslim, he was a lost soul. He had no friends, no girlfriend, he never went out. He stayed at home all day watching stuff on the internet.’
Another neighbour added: ‘Karim didn’t go to the mosque. He just stayed at home. You never saw him.’
Hakim continued: ‘Karim blamed the police for ruining his life. He fired (a pistol) at police during a burglary and got sentenced to 15 years prison.
‘He was only 20 at the time. He hated the police, he said they had ruined his life. He was ‘anti-cop’. He would swear at officers in the street, call them bastards. He didn’t care.’
Hakim, whose family is close to Cheurfi’s mother, said the gunman had only recently returned to the quiet residential street after spending years behind bars.
Cheurfi lived separately from his mother in a purpose-built apartment in the front of the property.
Hakim added: ‘He lived in the studio in the garden. The mother lived in the big house.’
Cheurfi’s Algerian-born mother had divorced his father and had married a Frenchman with who she had second son. She later divorced her second son.
Another neighbour said: ‘His parents split up but they stayed living at the same property.
‘The father Salat lived in the apartment in the front of the garden and the mother lived in the house at the back of the property.
‘The mother married again, to a Frenchman, and they had a son together but the father stayed living at the property.
‘So it was a bit complicated but that’s life. Karim got on well with his half brother who is called Stephane.
‘But he went to live in the apartment with his father when he got of prison.’
Another neighbor added: ‘The mother is not here. She is in Algeria. She goes there every few months to visit relatives. She’s not been well.’
Officers have been searching the home of Karim in east Paris and arrested three of his family members.
A French government spokesman said the ISIS gunman began firing against police using ‘a weapon of war’.
The fatal incident unfolded as presidential candidates, including National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, debated on a TV show nearby before Sunday’s election.
Paris police search the suspected Champs-Elysee attacker’s house
A French police officer has been shot dead on the Champs Elysees in Paris (pictured) – just days before the French presidential election
People held their hands up as they walked towards officers close to the scene where a policeman was fatally shot in Paris
Police closed off the popular avenue (pictured) after a policeman was killed during a shooting incident in the French capital
Pictured is the scene of a restaurant in Paris when the gunman opened fire on the streets outside. Diners are seen cowering on the ground in fear
An armed policeman speaks to diners in a nearby Parisien restuarant, who cowered to the floor in fear of the ISIS gunman
The gunman has been identified by police but they will not officially reveal his name until investigators determine whether he had accomplices, according to the Paris prosecutor.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said: ‘The identity of the attacker is known and has been checked. I will not give it because investigations with raids are ongoing.
‘The investigators want to be sure whether he had or did not have accomplices.’
The Interior Ministry spokesman said the officers were deliberately targeted and the police union added that the policeman was killed while sat in a car at a red light.
US President Donald Trump said: ‘It looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It never ends.’
The attack which took place on the Champs Elysees (pictured) comes just three days before the first round of balloting in France’s tense presidential election
A French police officer stood guard on the Champs Elysees in central Paris following the fatal shooting, which has been described as ‘terrorist related’
Police officers secured the area after a gunman got of an Audi vehicle and targeted officers by firing an automatic gun towards them
A man and a woman put their hands in the air as armed officers stood just yards away from them following the incident in the city
Officers searched the home of the suspected gunman on Thursday evening after they travelled to his home in the east part of the capital
People were seen running away from the area after Thursday night’s attack, which has been described as being ‘terrorist related’
Police officers searched the home of the suspected gunman in east Paris following the attack in the capital on Thursday
The Audi which is believed to belong to the attacker was taken away from the scene on the back of a lorry as police rushed to the popular avenue
Forensic experts and police officers were seen examining evidence from a van on the Champs Elysees in central Paris
‘I heard six gunshots’: Eyewitness tells how Paris attack unfolded
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and dramatic video footage showed the immediate aftermath of the incident which left one policeman dead.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for the French Interior Ministry, confirmed that both injured officers in hospital were now ‘out of danger’ and ‘stable’, while the female tourist was far less badly hurt.
Mr Brandet did not name any of the victims, but praised the officers for ‘helping to avoid a bloodbath’ by ‘neutralising’ the attacker as quickly as possible.
French President Francois Hollande said the attack was ‘terrorist related’ and scheduled an emergency meeting following the shootings on Thursday evening.
Mr Hollande said a national tribute will be paid to the policeman and added that a ‘passerby was hit’ before the ‘assailant was neutralised’.
Conservative contender Francois Fillon, who has campaigned against ‘Islamic totalitarianism,’ said on France 2 television that he was canceling his planned campaign stops Friday.
Far-right candidate Le Pen, who campaigns against immigration and Islamic fundamentalism, took to Twitter to offer her sympathy for law enforcement officers ‘once again targeted.’
She canceled a minor campaign stop, but scheduled another.
Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron offered his thoughts to the family of the dead officer.
Socialist Benoit Hamon tweeted his ‘full support’ to police against terrorism.
Le Pen and Francois Fillon announced that they have both cancelled their campaigning on Friday.
Paris gunman’s neighbour speaks out as police raid suspect’s home
French presidential election candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon (pictured) took part in the TV show just days before the election
French presidential candidates, including National Front party leader Marine Le Pen (pictured), took part in a key debate
Mr Brandet said ‘all lines of investigation were being pursued’, while intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for ‘State-security’.
This means he would have been under surveillance, because he was a known risk to the country.
An eyewitness, called Chelloug, said: ‘It was a terrorist. He came out with a Kalashnikov and started shooting, but he could’ve shot us on the pavement and killed more people with a spray of shots.
‘But he targeted the policemen and fortunately there were the policemen who killed him.’
Another witness said: ‘I saw someone shoot at the police officers. They returned fire, they killed him, he fell on the floor. And then the emergency services came.
‘It took place by Zara and there was a CRS (Republican Security Companies) van parked up and the man shot the police officers. He took out a weapon and shot them.
‘I think the police officer was killed on the spot and his colleagues fired back and killed the individual.’
The attack comes just three days before the first round of balloting in France’s tense presidential election.
A witness, identified only as Ines, told BFM that she heard a shooting, saw a man’s body on the ground and the area was quickly evacuated by police.
It comes just two days after police arrested two men in southern Marseille with weapons and explosives who were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the first-round of the presidential election on Sunday.
France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of alert since a string of terror attacks that began in 2015, which have killed over 230 people.
Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs Elysees or other potential targets like government buildings and religious sites.
Hollande says they are convinced the attack is of terrorist nature
Police officers quickly secured the area – which is popular with tourists and Parisians – after the attack and the road was on lockdown by 9pm
Police search the car reportedly used in Paris attack
Police officers took positions near the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris after the gunman – who was known to the security services – launched the attack
An armed soldier spoke to a man a told him to leave the area following the fatal shooting close to the Arc de Triomphe (pictured)
French soldiers secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after a police officer was killed when a gunman opened fire in Paris
French police officers searched the area after some of their colleagues were shot in the heart of Paris on Thursday evening
French President Francois Hollande (pictured) said the attack was ‘terrorist related’ and scheduled an emergency meeting following the shootings
‘Stay back, stay back!’ Police warn after shooting in Paris
LE PEN ACCUSED OF ‘EXPLOITING’ ATTACK FOR VOTES
By Thomas Burrows for MailOnline
French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has accused far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of ‘exploiting’ the Champs-Elysees terror attack to win votes ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.
In the wake of the shooting Le Pen called for foreign terror suspects to be expelled immediately and claimed France needed a ‘presidency which acts and protects us.’
Responding to that, Cazeneuve, a Socialist, said Le Pen’s National Front (FN) ‘after each attack, seeks to exploit it and use it for purely political means.’
Experts believe the shooting last night could boost Le Pen’s chances of getting elected just days before France goes to the polls.
Le Pen today called for foreign terror suspects to be kicked out the country despite the fact the ISIS gunman was French
Voters could flock to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen following the latest terror attack
In last night’s attack a police officer was killed and two more were injured after a gunman opened fire close to the Champs-Elysees.
Le Pen today called for foreign terror suspects to be kicked out the country despite the fact the ISIS gunman was French. The 39-year-old had used the war name ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’.
Officials confirmed the homegrown fanatic was a French national despite his nickname.
A manhunt is underway for the second suspect who travelled by train to France from Belgium.
The Champs-Elysees terror attack could boost far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s chances of getting elected, experts believe
The shooting took place just four days before the French election and experts believe it could bolster Le Pen’s chances of being elected.
Le Pen has made immigration and security the core part of her campaign. She has pledged to tighten French borders controls and build more jails, and claimed authorities were not doing enough to protect citizens from terror attacks.
More than half of police officers in France had already said they were voting for Le Pen because of her strong anti-terror stance, according to an IFOP poll.
Experts believe it could increase her chances of winning Sunday’s election.
Fredrik Erixon, director at the European Centre for International Political Economy, told CNBC: ‘[It could lead to] a greater performance of Marine Le Pen than otherwise would have been the case.
‘It’s difficult to see how this attack will not play into the hands of political forces that want this campaign to be focused only on issues around migration and terrorism.’
Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank, added: ‘The Paris gunman attack may well swing support in her favor; and this may not be picked up by the polls in a timely manner.’
Mobile phone footage appears to show officer looking over ‘body’
Armed police officers were quick on the scene and closed the world famous avenue following the incident which shocked the city
The world famous was shut at around 9pm and it is believed police are still searching for a second suspect in relation to the attack
Police officers blocked the access of a street near the Champs Elysees in Paris after the fatal shooting on Thursday, April 20
Officers were wearing vests and helmets as they patrolled the area close to where the fatal shooting took. A 39-year-old man is believed to be responsible for the shooting
The world famous street was put on lockdown by 9pm and officers guarded the area in central Paris (pictured, the Eiffel Tower in the background)
A policeman attended the scene and was armed with a gun following the incident. Police have reportedly issued a warrant for a second attacker
Up until now, polls showed voters more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this would change in the event of further bloodshed.
For weeks, centrist former banker Le Pen has been out in front but opinion polls now show there is a chance that any of the four leading candidates could reach the second-round runoff on May 7.
Scandal-plagued conservative Fillon and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon have closed the gap substantially in the last two weeks.
A COUNTRY UNDER SIEGE: TIMELINE OF FRANCE TERROR
By Rory Tingle for MailOnline
March, 18, 2017 – Convicted criminal with links to radical Islam shouted ‘I am here to die for Allah, there will be deaths’ seconds before he was shot dead during an attack at Orly airport. The 39-year-old, named locally as career criminal Ziyed Ben Belgacem, was killed after wrestling a soldier’s gun from her and fleeing into a McDonald’s. He sent a text message to his brother and father stating ‘I shot the police’, shortly before he was killed.
February 3, 2017 – A man is shot five times outside the Louvre museum in the heart of Paris after attempting to storm the historic art gallery.
July 14, 2016 – Amid Bastille Day celebrations in the Riviera city of Nice, a large truck is driven into a festive crowd. Some 86 people from a wide variety of countries are killed. The driver is shot dead. Islamic State extremists claim responsibility for the attack. The state of emergency in France is extended and extra protection, including robust barriers to prevent similar attacks, is put in place at major sites in France.
June 13, 2016 – Two French police officers are murdered in their home in front of their 3-year-old son. Islamic State claims responsibility for the slaying, which was carried out by a jihadist with a prior terrorist conviction. He is killed by police on the scene.
Nov. 13, 2015 – Islamic State militants kill 130 people in France’s worst atrocity since World War II. A series of suicide bomb and shooting attacks are launched on crowded sites in central Paris, as well as the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. Most of those killed are in a crowded theater where hostages are taken. Islamic State extremists claim responsibility and say it was in retaliation for French participation in airstrikes on the militant group’s positions in Syria and Iraq. It leads to the declaration of a state of emergency in France. Police powers are expanded.
Jan. 7, 2015 – Two brothers kill 11 people inside the Paris building where the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is headquartered in what Islamic State extremists claim is retaliation for the publication of cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad. More are killed subsequently in attacks on a kosher market in eastern Paris and on police. There are 17 victims in all, including two police officers. The attackers are killed.
The UK Foreign Office said: ‘The British Embassy is in contact with local authorities and urgently seeking further information following reports of a shooting incident on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
‘You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local security authorities and/or your tour operator.
‘If you’re in the area and it is safe to do so, contact your friends and family to tell them you are safe.’
were photographed standing on top of a vehicle on the Champs Elysees following an incident which left one officer dead
French police officers reacted after the shooting which left one officer dead and two more seriously injured in Paris
French soldiers were armed with guns (pictured) and stood guard at the Arc de Triomphe near the Champs Elysees in Paris
Heavily armed officers had flooded the area following the gunshots which were heard in a busy part of the French capital
Reports have suggested that two police officers have been killed on the Champs Elysees in central Paris (pictured) this evening
It was originally believed the other officer was seriously wounded while the attacker was killed on the world famous avenue (pictured)
The incident last night comes as France remains in a state of emergency following the Paris attacks in 2015 and the Bastille Day killings in Nice in 2016.
The shooting comes just hours after one of the busiest roads in Paris was closed off by police as officers dealt with a ‘suspicious package’.
Reports suggested that items were discovered by officers as Rue de Rivoli remained shut. Stunned witnesses described seeing a large police presence on the two-mile-long road.
Rue de Rivoli is a busy commercial street just north of the River Seine which is home to some of the most fashionable shops in the world.
CHAMPS-ELYSEES: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AVENUE IN THE WORLD
By Thomas Burrows for MailOnline
The Champs-Elysees – the scene of Thursday night’s terror attack – is the beating historic heart of Paris.
It has been described as the ‘most beautiful avenue’ in the world and is visited by millions of tourists every year.
Tens of thousands of people daily throng the tree-lined 1.2 mile avenue that is home to luxury stores and chain stores, cafes, cinemas and high-end offices.
A tourist draw as famed as the Eiffel Tower just across the River Seine, the avenue, stretching from the Arc de Triomphe down to Concorde Square, was first laid out in 1670.
Over the decades people have gathered there to mark momentous moments in French history.
During the French Revolution in 1789 an angry mob set off from the avenue to march on Versailles, Louis XVI’s opulent retreat.
It was also the site chosen by General Charles de Gaulle to celebrate the August 25, 1944, liberation of Paris from the Germans during World War Two.
More recently, hundreds of thousands congregated along the avenue to celebrate France’s 1998 World Cup victory (sealed with a 3-0 win over Brazil) on home soil.
The Champs Elysees is famously the finish line for the world’s toughest cycling race, the Tour de France.
Thursday was not the first time violence has been visited on the avenue.
In 1986, it witnessed two attacks – the first, on February 3, seeing one death and eight injured at the Claridge shopping arcade.
A second attack on March 20 at the Point Show arcade killed two and injured 29. Both attacks were linked to Middle East terrorism.
On Bastille Day in 2002, president Jacques Chirac survived an assassination attempt by a right-wing extremist who fired off one shot from a rifle hidden in a guitar case before bystanders wrestled him to the ground.
Troin told NBC News that it wasn’t just the FN’s stance on Islam and immigration that attracted her, but also the party’s populist take on the economy.
But most of all, it was the party’s charismatic leader, Marine Le Pen, who captured Troin’s loyalty.
“She fights for women’s rights against Islam,” she said. “I vote because of Marine.”
Troin is part of a quiet army of female National Front supporters, who could well tip the balance of the election and give the presidency to the hard-right.
An FN victory would rewrite the continent’s political playbook, given the party’s pledge to take France out of the European Union. Were it to win, it would not have been an easy ride for a movement that peaked in 2002 when founder Jean Mari Le Pen — Marine Le Pen’s father — reached the second and final round of the presidential election.
French voters flocked to the polls in the runoff to ensure Le Pen did not win, instead electing former President Jacques Chirac with a resounding 78 percent of the vote. Most pollsters expect a similar outcome in May’s second-round vote, predicting moderate voters to rally once again to shut out the FN.
But few doubt that the party’s anti-immigrant and anti-establishment platform is resonating.
The Front’s anti-Islamic message is especially potent in France, whose 4.7 million Muslims make up around 7.5 percent of the population. Islamist militant attacks have killed more than 230 people over two years and plunged the country into a long-term state of emergency.
Meanwhile, the FN’s influence has spread from its heartlands along the Mediterranean coast and in the rust-belt north, into rural “forgotten” France.
Polling institute Elabe recently predicted that 22 percent of women would vote for the National Front in the first round Sunday — almost 5 percent more than in 2012.
With just days to go, polls show the race is tightening. Centrist Emmanuel Macron is edging his way ahead on 24 percent and Le Pen is a fraction behind on 22.5 percent, according to Bloomberg polling.
Just below them, hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has enjoyed a late surge and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon has hung in there despite a slew of allegations that he paid thousands of euros to his British-born wife for assistance she allegedly did not provide. A third of voters remain undecided.
The FN’s ability to motivate French women could be decisive. Traditionally, it has struggled to attract female voters amid accusations of sexism, racism and anti-Semitism.
In its early years under Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party advocated a traditional image of women, opposed abortion rights and developed a reputation for a macho, strongman culture.
This bias showed. The FN was far less successful at attracting women than men. During Jean-Marie Le Pen’ time in charge, around 12 percent of French women supported the party compared with 17 percent of men, according toSciences Po Cevipof, a political institute based in Paris.
Marine Le Pen changed this.
Since taking over in 2011, she has softened the party’s image, steering the FN away from some of its overtly anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric in an effort to broaden its electoral base. In 2015, she expelled her father after he repeated his view that the Holocaust was a “detail of history.”
In the run up to the this year’s election, Le Pen dropped her last name from campaign handouts, referring to herself simply as Marine.
More recently, she specifically targeted the female vote. She has published special pamphlets and a campaign video that describes her as a woman and a mother and shows her flicking through family photo albums. She has also changed the party’s logo from a flame to a blue rose.
For Troin, the children’s clothes seller in Cogolin, her interest in the National Front has grown with Marine Le Pen’s rise. While immigration, job security and her fear of Islam remained underlying motivators, she was also attracted to the party’s re-brand.
For her, the former leader “was too outspoken, too offensive. He was a Hitler-like figure,” Troin said. “But Marine is different.”
In the last presidential election in 2012 — the first with Marine Le Pen as leader — the party’s gender gap closed to 1.5 percentage points. It’s what Cevipof professor and FN expert Nonna Mayer called the “Marine Le Pen effect.”
The party has long advocated clamping down on immigration and securing borders, and throughout her campaign Le Pen has consistently made the country’s Muslims a target.
“In France we respect women, we don’t beat them, we don’t ask them to hide themselves behind a veil as if they were impure. We drink wine when we want, we can criticize religion and speak freely,” she said during a rally Monday night, comments clearly aimed at Muslims.
During the rally, Le Pen pledged to suspend all visas from non-European migrants hoping to join their families in France — often code for immigrants from mainly Muslim North Africa and the Middle East.
After Thursday night’s attack in Paris, she again singled out what she sees as the threat posed by Islam.
“It is a war in which there can be no retreat because all our population and all our territory are exposed,” she said.
And for all her rebranding, Marine Le Pen can also fall back into the older, harsher style of messaging.
Cathy, a 50-year-old dental assistant who was shopping for groceries in Cogolin, said she was all set to vote FN but was taken aback by Le Pen’s recent comments that the French were not to blame for the anti-Jewish policies of the government during the Nazi occupation in World War II.
Referring to the “Vel d’Hiv” roundup of Jews by French police in July 1942, in which nearly 13,000 were detained and deported to concentration camps, Le Pen told French radio earlier this month she thought France was “not responsible.”
Cathy, who didn’t want to be identified by her second name, said Le Pen’s remarks had made her pause.
“Perhaps she has the same ideas as her father but they’re just hidden behind good PR skills,” she said. “So I’m still thinking.”
Others needed no time to reflect.
“The FN is xenophobic, racist and anti-feminist,” said retired teacher Mireille Escarrat. “For me it feels like the 1930s. We’re going backwards.”
Many of the National Front supporters interviewed by NBC News were reluctant to admit it, and others were concerned about being named.
“I don’t talk politics here,” a local woman said, having led the way into a backroom of her business in the town. The 60-year-old asked not to be named or for her business to be described because she felt that admitting her loyalty to the FN would damage her reputation.
“I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t for my business,” she added, out of earshot of her customers. “But this is somewhere everyone can come whether you vote communist or for the right.”
Even in this town — where 53 percent of the population voted FN in 2014 — voting Le Pen still carries a social stigma. There’s no telling just how many closet female FN voters there may be.
The party’s marriage of socialist economic policy and right-wing identity politics is working in the town, which sits in the FN’s traditional southern heartland. With the decline of traditional industries and unemployment at 18 percent, locals worry Cogolin is being reduced to a seasonal economy dependent on rich resort communities.
Newly-converted women at the FN’s regional headquarters in neighboring Sainte-Maxime said Sunday’s election would be the first time they voted for the Front in a presidential race.
“We didn’t vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen because he scared us,” said Monique Guckert, 67, a retired shop assistant. “His ideas were too fascist, too racist. It was too much.”
Even the FN mayor of Cogolin, Marc Etienne Lansade, admitted his mother would never have voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen.
“He drove her crazy,” he said. “Women understand Marine Le Pen, she’s divorced, she has three children, she works — she’s a modern woman,” he added, sitting in his second-floor office in the town hall.
Still, not all women appreciate Le Pen’s message. On Monday, a topless protester carrying flowers charged the candidate during a rally northern Paris.
Le Pen does not try to make out that she is a feminist. Of her 144 manifesto pledges, only one addresses women’s issues. In it, she promises to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islam, implementing a plan for equal pay and combating social and job insecurity.
“She’s a fake feminist,” said Camille Froidevaux-Metterie, a political scientist and expert on women in politics at the University of Reims.
Asked if a Le Pen win would be a victory for women, she said that though symbolically “it would not be nothing.” She said it would mean France is ready for a female president but would have elected one on a non-feminist agenda.
“It’s a sort of paradox,” she said.