Europe

Foiled Paris attack 'was directed by IS'

A French police officer patrols in front of Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, Friday Sept. 9, 2016. Image copyright AP
Image caption Security has been stepped up at Notre Dame after the discovery of the suspect vehicle

Three women arrested over a foiled attack in Paris were directed by so-called Islamic State (IS) from Syria, a French prosecutor has said.

The group "wanted to make the women into fighters", Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.

The suspects were held after police found a car filled with gas cylinders.

One of the women, identified as Sarah H, aged 23, had been engaged separately to two French jihadists, both now dead, who carried out attacks this year.

A policeman was stabbed during an operation late on Thursday to arrest the women, after the discovery of the suspect car near Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on Sunday.

Police shot and wounded one of the women during the operation in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, south-east of the city.

One of those arrested, identified as Ines Madani, aged 19, reportedly declared her allegiance to IS in a letter. Mr Molins said she had tried several times to travel to Syria.

The third woman was identified as Amel S, 39. Her 15-year-old daughter, who had been radicalised, was also taken into custody, the prosecutor said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police searched an apartment that the arrested women had been seen leaving

Mr Molins said Sarah H had been engaged to Larossi Abballa, who killed two police officials in June before being shot dead himself, and subsequently to Adel Kermiche, who was shot dead by police in July after slitting the throat of an elderly priest in his church.

Her current fiance was arrested on Thursday, Mr Molins said.

The women and their associates had already been under surveillance but the discovery of the gas-filled car near Notre Dame had pitted the security forces in "a race against time" to arrest them, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

The three women were believed to be planning other imminent and violent attacks, he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris

President Francois Hollande said: "An attack was derailed... a group has been disbanded, but there are others and we must be able to act each time before it is too late and that's what we're doing."

Mr Molins said the latest plot provided more evidence that IS was ready to use women for attacks.

"If at first it seemed that women were confined to carrying out family and domestic tasks by the terrorist organisation, we are now forced to see that vision is largely outdated," he said.

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