ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Three police officers have been shot in Paris days before the French presidential election. The French Interior Ministry says the officers were shot by a man with an automatic weapon as they sat in a police van on the Champs-Elysees, the famous boulevard in the center of Paris. One of the officers died right away. The other two were seriously injured according to the ministry spokesman.
NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is on the Champs-Elysees and joins us now. And Eleanor, what more can you tell us about this incident?
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Well, as you said I'm standing on the Champs-Elysees, which is completely in lockdown. Nobody is allowed onto the boulevard. There are police cars everywhere. There have been helicopters overhead. Exactly what you said - a car pulled up on the Champs-Elysees. A gunman got out, shot three police officers. One died. And he tried to flee, and he was shot and killed.
People are shocked. I just spoke with someone who was sitting at a cafe. This is a huge boulevard where people shop. It's not far from the president's residence, the prime minister's house. So it's a very central area in Paris, very strategic. He said he heard gunshots, and he said everyone just took off down the street screaming. He said when a crowd moves like that, you just go with it.
So it's very scary. And two days ago, Ari, in Marseille, police arrested two men and found an arsenal in their apartment - explosives, automatic weapons, flags of Islamic State, pictures of presidential candidates. And the Paris prosecutor says they were planning an imminent attack. So this two days later - people are nervous.
SHAPIRO: And I should say that because we are just in the early stages of receiving news about this, reports are shifting. Some said three police officers shot. Now we're hearing it may have been only two, one fatally. Do authorities know who carried this out?
BEARDSLEY: Well, the - a spokesman for the interior minister just was out here on the Champs-Elysees speaking with journalists, and he says, we will not release any information about who it is yet. So we have the feeling that they're checking on that now. We don't know who it is. Perhaps it is someone who has, you know - I don't know - a terrorist background. We don't know yet.
We do know that one officer has died. We do know that we are three days away from a presidential election. There's going to be 67,000 polling places across the country. There will be 50,000 extra police on the street. But it just gives you just a - sort of a weird feeling like it's impossible to secure everything everywhere. And you know, that this happened three days before - something happened two days ago - it's not a good feeling. But...
SHAPIRO: What, if any, connection do you think there might be to the presidential election this weekend?
BEARDSLEY: Who knows, Ari? I mean the guys - pictures have been distributed of them. They're 23- and 29-year-old just, you know - convert. One was a convert to Islam - radical guys just trying to just create chaos. Who knows? Maybe they're trying - there's been a lot of analysis. Does that make somebody, you know, get ahead in the polls? Does it make far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is very tough on immigration, though on terrorism, get more votes, less votes? It's just speculation at this point. It just seems like people trying to create chaos and havoc and get attention.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley speaking with us from the Champs-Elysees in Paris where police officers were shot. And we'll have more on this story as it unfolds throughout the evening. Thank you, Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Ari.
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