Two Frenchmen were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of planning an “imminent and violent” terrorist attack ahead of the first round of the country’s presidential election this weekend.

“These two radicalised men… intended to commit in the very short-term – by that I mean in the coming days – an attack on French soil,” said interior minister Matthias Fekl at a press conference.

The arrests took place in the southern port city of Marseille and come as France prepares to cast its votes in a tense national election already dominated by questions of immigration and security.

France has for two years been under a state of emergency in the face of a string of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and elsewhere that have left more than 230 people dead since 2015.

This has not been the only attempted violence in the campaign. Along with the occasional scuffle at political rallies, a leftist group last week attempted to firebomb the headquarters of the National Front’s headquarters in Paris.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has benefited from this heightened security threat, enabling her to prevent her flagship plans to slash the level of immigrants to France as a way to keep out terrorists.

Ms Le Pen is expected to take 23 per cent of the votes in the first round of the election on Sunday, in line with the 39-year old centrist Emmanuel Macron, according to Ifop polling. Conservative Francois Fillon and left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon are set to take 19 per cent.

At a campaign speech on Monday night Ms Le Pen hammered home – with a trademark aggression- the links between immigration and terrorism:

“We opened the door of the house of France to the mafia, to terrorists who quickly understood the benefits they could get from our incredible powerlessness and send their soldiers of hate among the migrant flows to hit our country in the heart,” she said.

“With me, there would not have been the migrant terrorists of Bataclan, Merah, the killer of military and Jewish children,” she added.

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