Five men arrested in Paris were ‘planning terror attack’

Prosecutor says men were being directed by Isis but target of planned attack not known

Five men arrested this week in France were planning a terror attack as early as next week and were receiving their orders from an Islamic State group member based in Iraq or Syria, prosecutors have said.

The five were arrested on Sunday, four of them in the eastern city of Strasbourg, and one in the southern city of Marseille.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the Strasbourg "commando" of four was plotting a terror act on December 1st but that investigators had not yet determined "the specific chosen target among all those considered by the group".

He said the five men were “given guidance remotely” from a member of Islamic State, also known as Isis, based in Iraq or Syria and they had a “clear will to find and to identify targets to commit an act in the very short term”.

Investigators found communications containing GPS co-ordinates on one suspect’s USB stick.

The five men “had common instructions to obtain weapons, instructions given by an ordering person from the Iraqi-Syrian zone through encrypted applications popular among terrorists”.

The four arrested in Strasbourg were two French citizens both aged 37, a 36-year-old Franco-Tunisian and a 35-year-old Franco-Moroccan. Two had been convicted several times in France.

The man arrested in Marseille was a 46-year-old Moroccan. All were detained after a “long-term” investigation by French intelligence services.

The four Strasbourg suspects are long-time friends, seeing each other regularly, “all four communicating in a closed network through a dedicated telephone line”, Mr Molins said. But they were not in touch with the Marseille suspect.

Preliminary charges

After being held in custody for five days, the five were moved to the Paris court to face counter-terrorism investigating judges.

The Paris prosecutor asked magistrates to hand the five preliminary charges of taking part in a “terrorist criminal association” and to jail them.

The suspects were in possession or in search of weapons and financing, Mr Molins said. Weapons seized during home searches in Strasbourg included two handguns, two automatic rifles, several cartridge clips and dozens of cartridges of different calibres.

On the USB key, investigators found instructions for a money handover and detailed explanations to obtain weapons and ammunition.

A notebook containing manuscript inscriptions explicitly referred, over 12 pages, to the armed jihad and death in martyrdom, while some excerpts openly mentioned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, the prosecutor said.

Two of the Strasbourg suspects travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border via Cyprus in March last year, he said.

The Marseille suspect left Morocco in 2013 and made multiple trips across Europe with fake ID documents. In 2015, Turkish authorities prevented him entering Turkey.

Mr Molins was speaking to reporters the day after anti-terrorism authorities took the unusual step of holding the men in custody without charge beyond the normal maximum period, relying on a recent anti-terrorism measure.

France remains under a state of emergency imposed after IS attacks killed 130 people in Paris last November.