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France foiled ‘IS plot’ directed from abroad

Five men arrested in France for plotting an attack in the Paris area were directed from the Islamic State (IS) group’s heartland, a prosecutor said on Friday.

The police arrested seven men and seized weapons in raids in Strasbourg and Marseille last weekend. Two of the suspects were later released but the other five – four French and one Moroccan – appeared in court before anti-terrorism judges on Friday, public prosecutor Francois Molins told a press conference.

France has been under a state of emergency since January 2015 when Islamist extremists carried out the first of three large-scale attacks in the country that have left 238 people dead.

Molins said items seized in Strasbourg included written documents showing “clear allegiance” to IS and “glorifying death and martyrdom”. “The Strasbourg commando unit, but also the individual arrested in Marseille, were in possession of common instructions... sent by a coordinator from the Iraqi-Syrian region via encrypted applications,” he said.

Investigators established that the Strasbourg cell was planning an attack on December 1 on one of a number of possible targets, although Molins admitted authorities have so far been “unable to determine the exact one”.

A police source said the cell’s members researched “a dozen sites” online – including the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysees, the Disneyland Paris theme park, cafe terraces in the northeast of the capital, the Paris police headquarters and a metro station. Molins said the coordinator had also been in contact with two other people who were arrested on June 14. 

Authorities in Portugal were aware of the Moroccan, aged 46, who was arrested in Marseille, because of his possible radicalisation while in the country. The four other suspects were previously unknown to French intelligence services, although two of them are suspected of having travelled to Syria in 2015. All five are to be prosecuted for terrorism offences, said Molins.
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