A French far-right activist has been released from prison seven years after attempting to assassinate then president Jacques Chirac in a Bastille Day attack, a judicial official said Saturday.


Maxime Brunerie is held by a police officer after he fired a rifle shot at then French president Jacques Chirac, who was reviewing troops during the 2002 Bastille Day parade in Paris. ((Jacques Brinon/Associated Press))

Maxime Brunerie was convicted of attempted murder after he pulled a rifle from a guitar case and shot at Chirac on July 14, 2002. The attack took place during a military parade on Paris's famed Champs Elysées. Brunerie was subdued by onlookers, including a Canadian, as he tried to turn the weapon on himself.

Canadian connection

Canadian teacher Mohamed Chelali was vacationing in France at the time.

He and his family were standing near the Arc de Triomphe that Sunday, watching for the president of France to roll by in the Bastille Day parade, when Brunerie pulled a .22-calibre rifle out of a guitar case and fired a shot toward Chirac, who was in an open-top Jeep less than 50 metres away.

"There was a man just behind the guy," Chelali told CBC News at the time. "He pushed his arm… and at the same time I grabbed the gun. I got hold of the charger with the bullets and they went on the floor."

Chelali, from Langley, B.C., and at least two other men held the gunman until police arrived. He said it was two or three minutes, but it felt like hours.

"It was a very intense moment," he said. "We didn't know what he planned to do with the gun."

The French government bestowed the Legion d'Honneur, the country's highest honour, on Chelali for his efforts.

Brunerie, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, was released earlier this month but remains under judicial supervision, the judicial official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity according to judicial policy.

Such early release is allowed under French rules, if certain conditions are met.

The state attorney during his trial, Philippe Bilger, said on France-Info radio that he thought Brunerie was looking to rebuild his life. He added, "I simply hope that he will not be in the same intellectual and moral state as he was before the criminal act he committed."

Bilger said during the trial that Brunerie was in a "borderline" mental state at the time of the attack.

Brunerie told authorities he conceived the plot because he wanted to go down in history with a "shocking" act. Defence lawyers argued that Brunerie had psychological problems and deserved treatment rather than a criminal conviction.

Judicial officials insisted that Brunerie carefully planned the attack. They alleged he bought the gun a week before the parade, practiced shooting and emptied his bank account to buy gifts for his friends.