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Paris Gunman Undergoing Psychiatric Tests - 2002-07-15

Psychiatrists in Paris are expected to rule whether a man who allegedly shot at French President Jacques Chirac during a Bastille Day parade in Paris is mentally fit to appear in court. French officials, who say the man has neo-Nazi links, are crediting spectators and police with preventing an assassination.

Police say 25-year-old Maxime Brunerie, a far-right activist who pulled a .22 caliber rifle from a guitar case during Sunday's Bastille Day parade, fired off a shot before he was wrestled to the ground. Police say he told them he was, indeed, trying to kill the president.

Mr. Brunerie was among the crowd that had gathered to watch the celebrations when he suddenly produced the rifle just as Mr. Chirac passed by in an open-topped jeep.

Bystanders near the gunman shouted with alarm, and Mr. Brunerie managed to get off one shot before a spectator pushed the gun barrel skyward.

The spectator, a tourist from France's Alsace region named Jacques Weber, said Mr. Brunerie pulled the barrel down to his own chin as if to kill himself. But other bystanders then seized the gunman's weapon as police moved in and wrestled him to the ground.

Police say Mr. Brunerie has been associated with what they describe as neo-Nazi and hooligan groups. But, after interrogating him at police headquarters, they say they consider him deranged rather than part of any right-wing plot to kill the president.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy praised quick action by spectators and police. And President Chirac has personally thanked the four bystanders who were involved in stopping the gunman.

It is not clear whether the shot Mr. Brunerie fired came anywhere near the president. Mr. Sarkozy says that, under the circumstances, it would have been difficult, but not impossible, to hit Mr. Chirac.

He says everyone knows that it is possible for a .22 caliber rifle to hit its target when there is only a distance of between 100 to 150 meters between the shooter and the president.

Mr. Sarkozy says that, when Mr. Chirac was informed about the incident, he reacted calmly, saying "Oh, really?"

But French news media say the incident reveals glaring security lapses, and also highlights a violent fringe of French society.