French security officials have thwarted five terror plots across the country since the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls revealed on Thursday.
"Never has the threat been so high," Valls told France Inter radio, noting the fact that hundreds of French nationals were now in Syria, where they risked being radicalised.
Valls was speaking a day after authorities said they had arrested a 24-year-old Algerian national in Paris suspected of the murder of a woman at the weekend and an aborted plan to launch an armed attack on at least one church.
Sid Ahmed Ghlam, an electrical engineering student, was arrested Sunday morning after calling an ambulance. It appears that he had accidentally shot himself in the leg.
After the emergency services alerted police that they were treating a gunshot wound, Ghlam’s car was discovered by following a blood trail.
Inside the vehicle was an “arsenal” of weapons, Molins said, including handguns, bullet-proof vests and an AK-47 assault rifle.
They also found a laptop and three mobile phones, which Molins said were used to contact an accomplice in Syria “who explicitly asked him to target a church”.
French officials have suggested that Ghlam’s exchanges with the so-far unnamed contact in Syria may have played a critical role in radicalizing the 24-year-old engineering student who had no past criminal record. "This type of individual does not act alone, we have seen with the attacks in January, there are networks, there are those who provide logistical support," said Valls in his interview with France Inter.
Police searching Ghlam’s student housing apartment in Paris’s 13th arrondissement found additional weapons as well as “documents in Arabic relating to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group,” said Molins.
Ghlam’s DNA was also found in the car of a 32-year-old fitness instructor Aurélie Châtelain who was found dead in Villejuif, a suburb of Paris, on Sunday. Police believe Ghlam was trying to steal the fitness instructor’s car when he accidentally shot himself, according to French daily Le Monde.
Tide of French nationals heading to IS-controlled areas
France has heightened surveillance by police and intelligence agencies since January’s attacks on satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket that left 17 people dead.
The threat has been growing since 2012, a year after the Syrian uprising broke out, said Valls. “We estimate that 3,000 to 5,000 European are on site,” he said, referring to the IS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq. “This figure could reach 10,000 -- this means that not only France, but other countries are also directly threatened.”
According to Valls, 1,573 French nationals or residents have been identified for their involvement in jihadist networks, of which, 442 made their way to Syria “without a doubt” and 97 had died in the region.
A hotline established last year to enable citizens to report cases of radicalisation had already registered more than 2,600 reports, 630 were considered very serious and examined by security services, revealed the French prime minister.
“France, like other European countries, is facing a terror threat of an unprecedented nature and amplitude,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Wednesday. “We are maintaining total and constant vigilance.”
‘Catholics of France’ targeted
On Wednesday, Valls said “terrorists are targeting France to divide us” but that the country was “determined to stay united”.
Valls visited two churches in Villejuif that were the apparent focus of the foiled plot. He said the suspect planned to target "the Christians, the Catholics of France".
"To target a church is to target a symbol of France, the very essence of France," the prime minister said, adding that this was “the first time” Christians were specifically targeted by suspected jihadists in France.
Valls said his government would take appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of worshippers and church visitors.
“France has an exceptional Christian heritage – its cathedrals, churches and chapels attract tourists and pilgrims,” he said. “This heritage must be protected but also remain open.”
(With AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-04-23