France foils \'imminent’ attack by known jihadist sympathiser
PARIS - A French IT student and known jihadist sympathiser has been arrested for allegedly planning attacks on churches, the interior minister said Wednesday, some three months after Paris was hit by an extremist killing spree.
The 24-year-old Franco-Algerian's plans were exposed purely by chance after he called an ambulance over a bullet injury to his leg.
Police traced a trail of Sid Ahmed Ghlam's blood to his car, where they discovered an arsenal of weapons, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters.
"Several war weapons, hand guns, ammunition, bullet-proof vests and computer and telephone hardware" were found in his car and his student flat in central Paris.
Cazeneuve told reporters that apart from the weapons, police had also discovered detailed research "clearly establishing that the person was planning to commit an imminent attack against one or two churches".
"Sunday morning, this attack was foiled."
Documents mentioning Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group were also found at his home, the Paris prosecutor said.
A source close to the investigation said Ghlam appeared to have carefully calculated how long it would take police to respond.
The suspect, who was admitted to a Paris hospital after his arrest, was known to intelligence services over comments on social networks expressing his desire to go and fight in Syria alongside jihadists.
His DNA was later found in the car of a young mother from northern France who was found shot dead in mysterious circumstances over the weekend near Paris.
Ghlam told paramedics he had received the bullet wound during a settling of scores, however investigators do not exclude that he may have injured himself.
Several members of his entourage and family have since been detained, some of whom sympathise with radical Islam, sources close to the investigation said.
On Wednesday, his 25-year-old girlfriend was taken in for questioning. The sources said she was a convert to Islam and was the only woman in her neighbourhood who wore a full headscarf.
The arrest comes some three months after Islamic extremists went on a three-day killing spree in and around Paris, leaving 17 people dead.
The January 7-9 attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket sent shockwaves around the world, and prompted several reforms in France including controversial new spy laws that are currently being debated in parliament.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated government warnings that the country was facing an "unprecedented terrorist threat".
"Terrorists are targeting France to divide us and our response must of course be to protect citizens but also to rally together, unite and to be hugely determined faced with this terrorist threat," he said on French television.
During their investigations, police discovered the suspect's DNA in the car of Aurelie Chatelain, an unemployed dance enthusiast who was found dead in the town of Villejuif near Paris -- the town where the churches were targeted, according to a police source.
But the suspect's alleged link to the death was not clear.
Chatelain's body was discovered on Sunday in her car. She had been shot three times.
The 32-year-old mother had just come to the area from northern France to take a pilates training course and had written of how happy she was to be there on her Facebook page on Saturday evening.
Some nine hours later, her body was discovered by passers-by as smoke poured out of the car from an overheating laptop.
A judicial source said Sunday that investigators were open to all possibilities.
But Chatelain's distraught father Jean-Luc said Monday that the mother of five-year-old Juliette had no enemies.
"The father of the little girl... and my daughter have been separated for several years but they got along fine," he said.
Cazeneuve promised Wednesday that the probe would determine why Chatelain was killed, and reiterated that the country was faced with an "unprecedented terrorist threat".
Hundreds of French nationals have left France to join jihadist ranks in Iraq and Syria, where they represent almost half the number of European fighters present, according to a report released this month by the upper house Senate.
Authorities are concerned that these nationals will come back and commit attacks on home turf.