Following the Champs-Elysées terrorist attack on the evening of April 20th, numerous rumours spread on social media, as well as in the mainstream media. Here are the main ones:
(Translation: “ATTACK ON THE CHAMPS URGENT POLICE SEARCHING FOR #YoussoufElOsri who arrived with Thalys [a railway operator] from Belgium”)
- Youssouf El Osri did not arrive from Belgium on a Thalys train
Some Belgian mainstream media and patriotic websites reported that Youssouf El Osri was involved in the attack, and wanted by police. However, this 35-year-old Belgian was not involved in the attack. The Belgian police had only reported him to French authorities because an Anvers-Paris train ticket was found at his home in connection with another inquiry. On April 21st he went to a police station in his city, Anvers, and, according to his lawyer (quoted by the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad) he was working in a gas station on the night of the Champs-Elysées attack. Perhaps the confusion arose from the communique that ISIS sent, via its press agency Amaq, in which it attributes the attack to a certain Abu Yussef, the Belgian. However, according to sources involved in the investigation, the assailant was a 39-year-old Frenchman, named Karim Cheurfi.
- No second policeman was killed
Quoting a police source, the Reuters Press Agency, the SCP (acronym standing for ‘Syndicat des Commissaires de Police’ – ‘Union of Police Commissioners’), as well as candidate Jean Lassalle on French channel France2, all reported the death of a second policeman during the attack. In reality, according to the Ministry of the Interior, the exact toll was one dead policeman and two other injured policemen.
- The attacker was not on an extremist watch list
Contrary to many media reports, Karim Cheurfi was not on an extremist watch list (a police tool used to identify an individual when he/she tries to cross national borders). However, his name was listed in a file of alerts in the context of terror and radicalization prevention (FSPRT) since January 2017. Le Monde states that, in December 2016, Cheurfi had been attracting the attention of intelligence services. On February 23rd, 2017, he had been placed in custody, suspected of planning to kill police officers, but was released the day after due to insufficient evidence, states AFP, quoting sources close to the investigation. In March, the file was taken over by the anti-terrorist division of the Paris prosecution service.
- No other attacks occurred in Paris
On France 2, right wing candidate François Fillon said: “We are being told that there are other attacks elsewhere in Paris”. Reuters also reported shootings near the Champs-Elysées, but this information was denied by the spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior.
François Fillon’s team explained to AFP that the candidate was referring to the Sentinelle operation, where a soldier was assaulted at the Etienne Marcel metro station, in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Colonel Benoît Brulon (also the spokesman of Paris’ military governor) declared that the incident involved a “homeless person who was extremely inebriated”. He also cited the event as a “non-event”.