French presidential election candidate Francois Fillon addresses a meeting in Paris, France, on March 21, 2017. (Xinhua/Hubert Lechat)
PARIS, April 19 (Xinhua) -- The arrest on Tuesday of two people suspected of planning "imminent and certain terrorist attacks" is stirring a new wave of fears over security as the French presidential election looms.
The terrorist plot is believed to have been targeting candidates of the election, in particular the right-wing candidate Francois Fillon, local media reported.
Following the arrest, security of the main candidates has been strengthened, while rallies and other political gatherings are put under close police surveillance.
Several candidates, including Fillon, confirmed that they had been informed about the threat by the French Interior Ministry and had received photos of the two suspects.
"I congratulate the police and the intelligence services that carried out the arrest of two terrorists. But as far as I am concerned, this does not change the organization of my campaign and, above all, it must not change the focus of the campaign debate to security issues, especially not to mine," said Fillon.
The Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon said he was informed of the threat but did not want to make it part of his campaign.
"We knew that the threat existed. There was an attack that was thwarted, and we should be glad of that. I do not want to politically manipulate this event which is serious enough," he said, indicating that it will not change his campaign strategies.
Emmanuel Macron, centrist candidate and one of the frontrunners, reacted in the same manner, saying that he will continue "to contact, to move" in spite of the threat.
Meanwhile, the far-right party National Front (FN) of another frontrunner Marine Le Pen accused its opponents of being unable to cope with the terrorist threat.
"Our democracy, voting operations and election campaigns are threatened. It's been two consecutive five-year periods since we allowed the Islamist threat to flourish, and today we have come to a situation where we even wonder if electoral campaigns will still be possible tomorrow," said Florian Philippot, Vice President of the FN.
The arrest came just a few days before French voters head to the first round of polls on Sunday.
The two suspects, 24 and 30 years old respectively, are believed to be radicalized while sharing a cell during a jail term for public offences, and were on the watch list of the police.
During a restricted council at the Elysee on Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande reiterated that "all the right means must be mobilized" to ensure the smooth running of the election.
"The terrorist risk is higher than ever," said French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl, adding that the two suspects were planning to commit an attack on the French territory in the coming days.
Fekl also announced that 50,000 policemen, gendarmes and military personnel will be deployed to safeguard each round of the election. The new arrest has extended the lengthy list of thwarted terror attacks in France in recent years.
In 2016, 17 attacks were thwarted, and 420 individuals linked to terrorist networks were arrested in France thanks to operations of the intelligence services, according to then Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
On Feb. 3, a 29-year-old Egyptian was shot near the Louvre Museum while trying to attack soldiers with a machete.
In an interview last year, then French prime minister Manuel Valls revealed that nearly 700 French nationals or residents were fighting in Iraq and Syria, including "275 women and dozens of children."
The returns of these jihadists could mean that more terror attacks are in store for France, he warned.