Monday 25 June 2018

Suspected terror plot with deadly ricin foiled by French police

A police officer cordons off the area after a knife attack in Paris last Saturday that killed one. Photo: AP
A police officer cordons off the area after a knife attack in Paris last Saturday that killed one. Photo: AP

Henry Samuel

Police in France have foiled a suspected terror attack and handed terrorism charges to a man of Egyptian origin.

Earlier, French interior minister Gerard Collomb said that two men had been arrested for "preparing to commit an attack, with either explosives or ricin, this very powerful poison".

He said police identified the two suspects while tracking extremist activity on social networks.

"They had tutorials that showed how to make ricin-based poisons," Mr Collomb told BFM TV, adding that they had communicated via the Telegram encrypted messaging application.

"We were able to detect them, detect this attack plan and were able to arrest them," he said.

It is unclear how police were able to decipher their Telegram exchanges given its reputedly impenetrable nature. Later, judicial sources said one of the men was released without charge.

The other, a 20-year-old student and illegal immigrant known only as Mohamed M, ran a "particularly active account in the pro-jihadist sphere", said the source. Police raided his flat and found a stash of gunpowder taken from bangers as well as a computer containing bomb-making tutorials, as well as a video on how to use ricin.

During questioning, the suspect "spontaneously acknowledged having consulted jihadist propaganda and explained that an as yet unidentified individual on the encrypted messaging app Telegram told him to buy the stock of bangers to make a bomb and to take action in France," he said.

He then "sought to play down the seriousness of his acts," said the source.

However, he added: "Contrary to his statements, analysis (of his equipment and accounts) revealed that in reality he had accepted to undertake this mission and that he was also ready to die a martyr by blowing himself up." He was "very determined", said the source.

He and the other man had been arrested in the northern 18th arrondissement of Paris on May 11. The following day, Chechen-born Frenchman Khamzat Azimov, a nursing student, killed one person and wounded five others near the Garnier Opera house.

Azimov was killed when he advanced on police.

Isil claimed responsibility for inspiring Azimov's attack.

A close friend of his was arrested and handed preliminary terrorism charges on Thursday night.

Two young women were also arrested on Thursday in the Paris region in relation to the attack, the anti-terrorism prosecutor said. Azimov also lived in the 18th arrondissement, home to Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur but also a string of low-income high-rises with a large proportion of immigrant communities.

Mr Collomb defended the government's handling of the 26,000 people on police watch lists for suspected radicalism. Azimov was on the watch-list but not considered an imminent threat. In late March, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had indicated that a total of 51 attacks had been thwarted by French security services since January 2015, the beginning of a wave of strikes on French soil, many claimed by Isil. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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