French terror suspects 'were planning attack on Paris'
PARIS - Agence France PressFive men arrested in France for preparing an attack in the Paris area were directed from the Islamic State group’s heartland, a prosecutor said on Nov.25.
Police arrested seven men and seized weapons in raids in the cities of Strasbourg and Marseille last weekend.
Two of the suspects were later released but the other five -- four Frenchmen and a Moroccan -- appeared in court before anti-terrorism judges on Friday, public prosecutor Francois Molins told a press conference.
France has been under a state of emergency since January 2015 when Islamist extremists carried out the first of three large-scale attacks in the country that have left 238 people dead.
Molins said items seized in Strasbourg included written documents showing "clear allegiance" to IS and "glorifying death and martyrdom".
"The Strasbourg commando unit, but also the individual arrested in Marseille, were in possession of common instructions... sent by a coordinator from the Iraqi-Syrian region via encrypted applications," he said.
Investigators established that the Strasbourg cell was planning an attack on December 1 on one of a number of possible targets, although Molins admitted authorities have so far been "unable to determine the exact one".
A police source said on Thursday that the cell’s members researched "a dozen sites" online including the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysees, the Disneyland Paris theme park, cafe terraces in the northeast of the capital, the Paris police headquarters and a metro station.
Molins said the coordinator had also been in contact with two other people who were arrested on June 14, during the Euro 2016 football tournament.
Authorities in Portugal had been aware of the Moroccan, aged 46, who was arrested in Marseille, because of his possible radicalisation while in the country.
The four other suspects, aged between 35 and 37, were previously unknown to French intelligence services, although two of them are suspected of having travelled to Syria in 2015.
All five are to be prosecuted for terrorism offences, said Molins.
France’s state of emergency gives security forces enhanced powers of surveillance and arrest.
In January 2015, Islamist gunmen targeted the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.
Ten months later, Islamic State jihadists massacred 130 people in attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, France’s national stadium and a handful of bars and restaurants in eastern Paris.
And in July, a self-radicalised extremist ploughed a truck into crowds watching Bastille Day fireworks in the southern city of Nice, killing 86.
Two weeks later, two jihadists in their 20s claiming to be IS followers slit the throat of 84-year-old priest Jacques Hamel at a church near the northern city of Rouen.