PARIS, FRANCE: French anti-terror judges charged a woman Saturday over a failed attack near Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral, where a car full of gas canisters was found last weekend.
The mother of three, named as 29-year-old Ornella G., is one of several women detained in the past week on suspicion of planning new attacks in France, a country on high alert after a string of assaults in the past 18 months.
According to investigators, her fingerprints were found in the Peugeot car that was abandoned last Sunday a few hundred metres from Notre Dame in an area thronging with tourists. The car contained five gas cylinders, three bottles of diesel and a lit cigarette.
Ornella G. was remanded in custody after being charged with association with a terrorist group and attempted murder by an organised group, prosecutors said. Known to authorities for previously planning to go to Syria, she was arrested in southern France on Tuesday with her boyfriend, who has since been released.
Three other women, named as 19-year-old Ines Madani, 23-year-old Sarah H. and Amel S., 39, were detained on Thursday before they could carry out an attack, investigators said. The trio were looking at train stations in Paris and south of the capital as potential targets, as well as the police, according to sources close to the investigation.
Madani, the daughter of the car’s owner, had allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. She was also known to authorities for seeking to travel to Syria. Ornella G. told police that she and Madani tried to set the car alight but “fled when they saw a man they believed to be a plain-clothes policeman.” Investigators are seeking to determine whether Sarah H. was with the pair at the time.
She was the fiancee of Larossi Abballa, a militant who knifed to death a senior policeman and his partner at their home in a Paris suburb in June before himself being shot dead. Sarah H. had since become engaged to Adel Kermiche, one of two militants who killed an elderly priest in July near the northern city of Rouen and was subsequently killed by police.
Anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said Friday that the women were inspired by IS, which has called on its followers to attack France in revenge for air strikes on the group’s bases in Syria and Iraq. “A terrorist cell made up of young women totally receptive to the deadly ideology of Daesh has been dismantled,” Molins said at a news conference, using another name for IS.
The extremist group claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people, among a series of recent assaults attributed to its followers including the Nice truck attack. Security is a hot issue in early campaigning for next year’s presidential elections. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that police had arrested 293 people this year for “links to terrorist networks.”
“This amounts to networks that have been dismantled and attacks that have been prevented,” Cazeneuve said, giving no further details about the arrests. “We are involved in an extremely intense, round-the-clock mission to protect the French public, and we are getting results,” Cazeneuve said. He added that 17 foreigners had been expelled this year for posing a “serious threat to public order.”
The latest was a Russian national, Mansur Kudusov, who was extradited to Russia on Friday after being jailed for breaching house arrest. Kudusov’s lawyer said he was a Chechen born in 1991 who had arrived in France as a child and had been placed under house arrest in 2012.