Wednesday 24 January 2018

Terror arrests in France after police find gas cylinders in car

A French soldier patrols in front of Notre Dame ­Cathedral in Paris. Photo: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
A French soldier patrols in front of Notre Dame ­Cathedral in Paris. Photo: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Henry Samuel

"Several people" are being held in Paris after police found an unmarked car containing gas cylinders next to Notre Dame cathedral, according to French reports, sparking fears of a fresh terrorist plot.

An anti-terror investigation has been launched following Sunday's discovery of the suspicious vehicle containing seven gas cylinders yards from the cathedral, one of Paris' most visited landmarks where thousands of tourists congregate every day.

The car, a Peugeot 607 with no number plates, contained no explosives or detonators, according to French reports. "They were not linked to any kind of fuse," one source close to the investigation told l'Express.

According to BFM TV, one empty canister was found in the back of the car and six full ones in the boot. The type of gas they contained was not specified.

The car had been abandoned on quai de Montebello, just yards from Notre Dame, located on Paris's Île de la Cité by the river Seine.

Initial reports said that a couple, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 29, were arrested and are being questioned by French domestic intelligence agents.

But Le Parisien, the capital's daily, reported that six people are now being held.

Paris has been on high terror alert since the November 13 attacks in which 130 people were killed.

This week, François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, warned that while Isil - which claimed responsibility for the attacks - was losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the threat of terror strikes in Western Europe was ironically "reinforced" as the jihadist group sought to lash out.

One "worrying factor", he told Le Monde, was the threat of the return to France of around 2,000 French nationals either on their way to Syria or wishing to return.

French intelligence services have been warning for months about the threat of car bombings.

In May, Patrick Calvar, head of France's intelligence service, DGSI, told MPs that he was "convinced" that Isil would "move to the booby-trapped cars and explosive devices stage and that will move up the scale in this way".

"They will end up dispatching commandos whose ­mission will consist of organising ­terrorist campaigns without necessarily mounting an assault ending in their death."

"For that, they need bomb makers and to organise all the logistics, meaning setting up on our soil and acquiring all the products," he said at the National Assembly closed doors security meeting.

On Tuesday, Manuel Valls, the prime minister, warned: "The terror threat has never been so high."

Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, said in recent days that French security services had arrested seven terror suspects in the month of August, including three that were in the process of planning an attack.


Meanwhile, Turkey's ­President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ­suggested he and the US are ready to drive Isil from its ­Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

Mr Erdogan said US counterpart Barack Obama floated the idea of joint action against the militants when they met at the G20 meeting in China.

He said Turkey would have "no problem" with such action.

Last month Turkey launched an operation inside Syria, ­targeting both Isil and Kurdish rebels.

Turkish-backed militia drove Isil from the border town of Jarablus, but Turkey has also been concerned with checking the advance of Kurdish forces whom it regards as terrorists.

The offensive continues, and Russia, which is allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, says it is deeply concerned by the movement of Turkish forces deeper into Syrian territory.

Mr Erdogan's comments on Raqqa were published in ­Turkish media. There has been no confirmation from the US.

"Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa," Mr Erdogan said. "We said this would not be a ­problem from our perspective.''

"I said, 'our soldiers should come together and discuss, then what is necessary will be done'," Mr Erdogan added.

(© Daily Telegraph London).

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