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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Shooting raises security concerns
French President Jacques Chirac
Chirac reportedly shrugged off news of the shooting

The evidence seems to point to the work of a single, crazed individual.

Not only did Maxime Brunerie, the would-be "jackal", act nothing like the calculating, professional assassin of Frederick Forsyth's famous novel, but French police have now revealed that he left a message on a website, urging people to watch television on Sunday.

This seems to follow the attention-seeking pattern of other mentally disturbed killers, such as Richard Durn, the man who killed several local councillors in the Paris suburb of Nanterre in late March.

It was only a hunting rifle - that's nothing

Jacques Chirac's reported reaction

The French authorities came in for a great deal of criticism in that case after Durn managed to commit suicide by jumping out of a Paris police station window.

They have taken no chances with the apparently suicidal Mr Brunerie.

The 25-year-old student with neo-Nazi links - and a background in far-right local politics - has been held in a police psychiatric unit, although he is thought to be stable enough for further police interrogation.

Serious questions

All the same, serious questions are being asked about the security of France's top politicians - even if President Jacques Chirac himself was reportedly unperturbed by the events of the day.

He apparently shrugged off the attempt on his life with the words "it was only a hunting rifle - that's nothing".

The shooting comes just weeks after a less serious - but, with hindsight, highly worrying - incident, in which Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin's inaugural speech to parliament was interrupted by an unknown individual who had managed to reach the podium of the National Assembly.

Nothing happened on that occasion and no one was injured during the Bastille Day shooting, but they were both very close calls.

French police subdue attacker
The would-be assassin was quickly subdued

One unnamed Chirac advisor is quoted in today's Le Parisien newspaper as wondering whether - in future - it might be an idea for the president to carry out his Bastille Day troop inspection in a type of Pope-mobile, or protected car.

But it would be a brave man who tried to convince Mr Chirac that he should tone down his flesh-pressing, crowd-working enthusiasm.

Indeed, just hours after his would-be assassin had been wrestled to the ground, the French head of state was hosting a garden party for the public, on a packed Elysee Palace lawn, grabbing the microphone like a seasoned compere.

You can only imagine the feeling of his security staff - the men nicknamed the president's "musketeers" - as they saw him wade into the crowd.

Questions may equally be asked of France's trio of star television anchors, who - just hours after the shooting - interviewed President Chirac, as tradition dictates on Bastille Day.

They didn't ask him a single thing about the attack. "He didn't seem worried at all," one of them said in his journalistic defence.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"The gunman was already known to the French authorities"
See also:

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