Three radical Islamists have been arrested in two separate counter-terrorism raids in southwestern France, one on suspicion of plotting a New Year’s Eve terror attack.
The counter-terrorism raids were conducted on Monday and Tuesday night in the department of Haute-Garonne, south-west France, a region where several hundred radical Islamists are being monitored. The two operations are indicative of the level of eminent threat anticipated by French security agencies, reports La Dépêche.
The first raid in Toulouse resulted in the arrests of two men, aged 42, on suspicion of plotting attacks against police officers. Both were identified as radical Islamists and one profiled as a potential suicide bomber. Small arms and light weapons were also seized. Le Figaro reports the men were illegal migrants.
The second raid in Cugnaux, 10 miles south-west of Toulouse, resulted in the arrest of a 30-year-old man as part of an investigation conducted by the antiterrorist prosecutor’s office in Paris. The suspect “is known to [police] services, he is suspected of wanting to carry out an attack on Dec 31,” a police source told Reuters.
The man was known to several investigative units and had been subject to a search some months ago. Surveillance had been stepped up around this “potentially dangerous” target, a close source told La Dépêche.
The Haute-Garonne prefecture confirmed that since 15 November 2015, two days after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis, 55 searches had been carried out in Toulouse and its suburbs.
According to a report published on 7 November 2016 by the Ministry of the Interior, more than 4,000 searches took place in one year, and 95 house arrests are still in force in the country. These searches ended in the seizure of nearly 600 firearms “of which 77 were weapons of war,” confirmed then-Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve.
Following the Christmas market attack by illegal migrant and Islamic State jihadist Anis Amri, who killed 12 and injured over 50, security has been increased around public Christmas and New Year celebrations across Europe including in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
Armed police have also been deployed at Christmas hotspots across the UK, including outside the nativity scene at Canterbury cathedral, the seat of the worldwide Anglican communion. Birmingham and Manchester Christmas markets were also protected by barriers.
On Wednesday, Spanish authorities said they had arrested two suspected jihadists in Madrid, and uncovered a stash of munitions.
The Foreign Desk has reported that Islamic State supporters are calling on jihadists to launch attacks over the Christmas and New Year period. In a series of graphic and disturbing images posted to an encrypted Telegram channel, the Nashir Media Foundation, a pro-Islamic State media group, urges potential ‘lone wolf’ attacks in public venues.
One Telegram post read, “Oh disbelievers, As you are preparing for Christmas celebrations, we advise you to prepare your coffins as well. Your celebrations have become a battlefield and a fighting area. So, wait for us.” The group advises Muslims to stay away from New Year’s celebrations.