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Five women held over botched attack near Paris cathedral

Geoffroy van der Hasselt, AFP | French police investigating the discovery of a car containing six gas cylinders in Paris arrested three female suspects on Thursday in the Paris suburb of Boussy-Saint-Antoine.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said Friday that five women have been detained in connection with a botched attack near Notre Dame Cathedral, adding that the plot is evidence of the Islamic State (IS) group's intent to use women as "combatants".

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"In the last few days and hours a terrorist cell was dismantled, composed of young women totally receptive to the deadly Daesh ideology," Molins told a news conference, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the IS group.

The prosecutor spoke a day after three women were arrested in a Paris suburb, including a teen whose father owned a car that was found parked near Notre Dame Cathedral with several cylinders of gas last Sunday.

The 19-year-old was shot and wounded in the thigh and ankle during Thursday's dramatic arrests in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, southeast of Paris, and one police officer was stabbed in the stomach.

The teen had written a letter pledging allegiance to the IS group and saying she had rallied to the call to punish France for its attacks on Muslims, Molins said.

He said the 15-year-old daughter of one of the other women had also been detained over suspected links to the plot. A fifth woman, who was detained separately on Tuesday, will appear before anti-terrorist magistrates on Saturday.

Women combatants

The Paris prosecutor said the cell was evidence that the IS group “intends to use women as combatants”.

"The terrorist organisation uses not only women, but young women, who get to know each other and develop their plot from a distance," he said.

France terror threat: what is the role of women in the Islamic state group's strategy?

Molins said there was evidence that attempts had been made to light the gas cylinders found in the car near Notre Dame in the heart of Paris' tourist district.

"A half-smoked cigarette" and a piece of material soaked in flammable liquid found in the boot of the car had been used to try to light one of the gas cylinders.

Molins said if the fire had taken hold, "it would have led within minutes to the explosion of at least one of the cylinders which would have led to the destruction of the whole vehicle".

Links to previous attacks

Molins said one of the women detained in Thursday’s police raid was engaged separately to two French extremists who themselves carried out deadly attacks this year.

He said the woman was engaged to Larossi Abballa, who killed two police officials in Magnanville in June and filmed the aftermath on Facebook Live before dying in a police raid.

The Paris prosecutor said she was also betrothed to Adel Kermiche, who slit the throat of an elderly French priest during morning Mass in July.

Her current fiancé was arrested on Thursday, Molins said. The fiancé was already known to French intelligence services for having links to Islamist radicals, sources close to the investigation told AFP.

The car's discovery on Sunday put the French capital on high alert, reviving fears about further attacks in a country where Islamist militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.

"A group has been neutralised," French President François Hollande said on the sidelines of a summit of southern European states in Athens on Friday. "Others are out there," he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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