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Terror suspect claims he thwarted French church attack

Saint Cyr-et-Sainte-Julitte Church in Villejuif, site of a suspected terror attack by Sid Ahmed Ghlam
Saint Cyr-et-Sainte-Julitte Church in Villejuif, site of a suspected terror attack by Sid Ahmed Ghlam AFP File Photo

An Algerian man accused of murdering a woman and planning an attack on a church on the southern edge of Paris claimed in court on Friday he had actually foiled the terror plot, his lawyers said.

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"He admitted he was in Villejuif on April 19, 2015, with another individual. However, he denies responsibility for the death of Aurelie Châtelain and also affirms he thwarted an attack on that day," his lawyers told AFP, without specifying who the other individual they referred to was.

Sid Ahmed Ghlam, 24, was taken into custody on April 19 after he accidentally shot himself in the leg, a fluke occurrence that led to police uncovering an alleged plot against a church in the Villejuif suburb.

Ghlam's hearing was his first before an investigating judge since his arrest, the lawyers said.

Accidentally shot himself

In April, Ghlam, an electrical engineering student and an Algerian national, was arrested in Paris after calling an ambulance when he 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, said Paris prosecutor François Molins, 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”.

More weapons were found in Ghlam’s flat, as well as “documents in Arabic relating to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group”.

As well as the weapons and documents, police said they had also found magnetic flashing blue lights of the type that police fix to the roofs of unmarked cars, and orange “Police” armbands used by non-uniformed officers.

Ghlam’s DNA was also found in Châtelain’s car.

Châtelain, a 32-year-old fitness instructor, was found shot dead in the passenger seat of her car in Villejuif.

Police believe Ghlam was trying to steal the young mother's car when he accidentally shot himself.

Prime target

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.

With the country a prime target of the Islamic State (IS) group, which has singled France out in several videos, fears are running high that those who return radicalised from Syria or Iraq may carry out attacks in Europe.

Suspected of helping Ghlam with logistics, three other men are also currently under investigation. They say they had no knowledge of a terror plot.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

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