Foiled French jihadist ‘targeted Louvre and Eiffel Tower’
French cultural monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were top terror targets of a foiled French jihadist, according to leaked transcripts published Wednesday of Internet conversations he had with an al-Qaeda-linked group.
The messages were sent using a “special encryption programme”, according to French daily Le Parisien, and took place between a 29-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent, named only as Ali M, and a “senior member” of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The pair exchanged messages online for a year, according to the report.
These were decrypted after Ali M’s arrest by France’s intelligence services in July 20. The halal butcher and father of two from the Vaucluse region of southern France was on his way to train with AQIM in the southern Algerian desert when he was detained.
According to the leaked documents, in April 2013 Ali M was asked to send “suggestions on the future activity of jihad [in France]”.
The following day, he sent a long email detailing his chilling plans.
“The targets should be average French citizens from the poorer classes gathering in small places, such as bars and nightclubs,” he wrote. Wanting to avoid any attacks on France’s Muslim population, he suggested avoiding shopping areas.
‘Imagine the effect of an improvised explosive device (IED)’
He also detailed historical monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum in central Paris, and without naming the Avignon arts festival, the leaked message talks about “cultural events taking place in southern France during which Christians gather for a month”.
“The roads become thick with people and just a single grenade would be enough to hurt dozens of people,” the message continued. “Imagine the effect of an improvised explosive device (IED).”
Later transcripts reveal Ali M’s willingness to recruit others to the cause, and are followed by an invitation to meet AQIM leaders in the Saharan south of Algeria “for ten days of training and to learn military techniques, after which you will return [to France] to await further instructions.”
In May 2013, Ali M wrote that he was ready to travel to Algeria, via Tunisia, and had a ticket booked for July. He was arrested a week before his departure by officers of the French DGSI domestic intelligence services.
‘Zealot’ or ‘weak young man’?
Ali M has been in French custody in France for the last year awaiting trial for “criminal association”.
The DGSI insists that he is a zealot, although his lawyer Daphne Pugliesi describes him as a “weak young man” who was easily indoctrinated by his AQIM handlers.
“His arrest has been a relief for him,” she told Le Parisien.
According to French judge Marc Trévidic, an expert in terrorism and one of the French team that investigated the murder of monks at the Tibhirine Monastery in Algeria in 1996, Ali M is not an isolated case.
He told Le Parisien that while AQIM was France’s biggest threat in terms of Islamist terror groups, hundreds of young Muslim men in France were being recruited to fight jihad abroad in other countries such as Syria and Iraq, and each of these had the potential to come back to France as radicalised potential terrorists.
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