Hollande says terror cell 'destroyed' after new arrest in gas cylinder plot
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French police on Friday announced a new arrest in connection with an abandoned car found to contain gas cylinders in Paris over the weekend. The suspect is the boyfriend of a woman detained Thursday and is thought to have links to radical Islam.
The suspect was arrested late on Thursday and was already known to French intelligence services for having links to Islamist radicals, sources close to the investigation told AFP.
The suspect's brother is also in custody over his relationship with Larossi A., a jihadist who killed a police couple at their home in a Paris suburb in June, sources said.
The latest arrest came just hours after police arrested three women near a train station in Boussy-Saint-Antoine near Paris as part of the investigation into several gas canisters found in a car parked near Notre Dame Cathedral on Saturday.
"A group has been neutralised. Others are out there," French President François Hollande said on the sidelines of a summit of southern European states in Athens on Friday, adding that a terrorist attack had been "thwarted" thanks to the arrests.
Speaking at a press conference late on Thursday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the women who were detained were likely preparing “imminent” attacks.
"These three women, aged 39, 23 and 19, had been radicalised, were fanatics, and were in all likelihood preparing an imminent, violent act," Cazeneuve said in a televised statement.
Their target was the Gare de Lyon railway station in southeastern Paris, an interior ministry official told Reuters on Friday.
A French security official was injured during the arrest in Boussy-Saint-Antoine when one of the suspects fought back with a knife, a police source told FRANCE 24. The woman was shot by police several times as she attacked the officer and remains in critical condition, the source added.
Suicide attack wish
The youngest of the three female suspects is the daughter of the owner of the Peugeot 607 car that was discovered with the gas cylinders, according to the interior ministry.
The owner of the car was taken into custody earlier this week but was released. He had reported his daughter and the car to the police as missing, officials said.
She was identified as "Inès M." by Le Point magazine, a French weekly.
Born on March 15, 1997, in the Parisian suburb of Tremblay-en-France, Inès M. was classified as a “dangerous individual” and was on France’s “S File” list of individuals who are considered a security risk.
She came on the radar of the French security services after expressing her wish to join the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. In a letter to her mother, Inès M. confided that she wanted to conduct a suicide operation, according to Le Point. In a second letter, she pledged allegiance to the IS group.
Investigators are now trying to establish if Inès M. had links to Hayat Boumeddiene, the girlfriend of Amedy Coulibaly, who launched a deadly attack on a Jewish supermarket on January 9, 2015. Boumeddiene left France for IS-controlled Syria on January 2 that year – just days before the series of attacks in and around Paris that began with a shooting rampage at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.
The discovery of the car near Notre Dame and the subsequent arrests have reignited fears of further attacks in a country where Islamist militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.