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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
How crowd foiled Chirac murder bid
President Chirac at Bastille Day parade
The 69-year-old president is a veteran of French politics
President Jacques Chirac had just passed the Arc de Triomphe when the gunman, standing in the crowd at the monument, made what officials described as an attempt on his life.

Maxime Brunerie made his move as the annual Bastille Day parade, marking the start of the French Revolution in 1789, was getting under way.


I grabbed his rifle and pointed it upwards so that he wouldn't injure anyone, then I tried to overpower him


Jacques Weber, tourist
He had concealed his .22 rifle in a brown guitar case and managed to fire one shot before police wrestled him to the ground.

The 25-year-old student and part-time chauffeur, described by police as a neo-Nazi, took aim at the procession in full view of the crowd of onlookers, an eyewitness told LCI television.

"I looked to my left and I saw a barrel pointed towards the procession. I looked behind me and I saw a man aiming at the procession. I heard a bang and I said to myself - that's it, he's shooting," said Jacques Weber, a tourist from Alsace.


The young man refused to let go of his weapon and said nothing

Eyewitness Mohamed Chelali
"I grabbed his rifle and pointed it upwards so that he wouldn't injure anyone, then I tried to overpower him. He was trying to kill himself. I snatched his weapon and other people overpowered him."

Another onlooker told the French news agency AFP that the gunman was aiming directly at the president.

"I was watching the parade. Mr Chirac was going by in his car when I felt the crowd moving to my right. Then I saw, two or three metres away, a man aiming in the direction of the president," said Mohamed Chelali, 50.

"Someone hit the gunman's hand and I grabbed a part of the weapon, and some metal bit of it fell off. A third person kept it pointed upwards," said Mr Chelali, a Canadian tourist.

Arrest of gunman
The gunman has been sent to a police psychiatric clinic
"The young man refused to let go of his weapon and said nothing. I held onto his rifle while somebody else held his neck."

Onlookers shouted "Police! Police!" and Mr Chelali said the police "took a long time to come, maybe two or three minutes".

The policemen pounced on the gunman, throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him.

It was not clear whether Mr Chirac, 69, riding in an open-top vehicle, had noticed the commotion at the Arc de Triomphe as he headed down the Champs Elysees Avenue in central Paris.

On Monday, Mr Chirac called four members of public who helped to overpower Mr Brunerie to thank them for "their intervention, their courage and their sang-froid," his office at the Elysee Palace said.

Far-right links

The gunman's rifle was identified as a .22 calibre normally used for sport shooting.

According to Patrick Devedjian, a junior government minister, "he fired a first shot, which was deflected, he was then overcome and he tried to turn the gun on himself".

Nicolas Couteau of the Force Ouvriere police union said the gunman fired in the direction of Mr Chirac's car "but the bullet went astray and nobody was hurt".

Police said Mr Brunerie, from the southern Paris suburb of Evry, was "known to belong to neo-Nazi and hooligan movements".

Officials said the gunman was a member of the far-right student group GUD and had links to skinheads.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Coomerasamy
"He was overpowered and arrested"
See also:

19 Jun 02 | Country profiles
17 Jun 02 | Europe
14 Jul 00 | Europe
02 Jul 99 | In Depth
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