Counterterrorism forces in France have broken up an Islamic terror cell, arresting nine people suspected of planning a jihadist attack on the city of Nice, thanks to intercepted messages among the group.
The Antiterrorist Sub-Directorate, the Inter-Regional Directorate of the Judicial Police of Marseille and the Directorate General of Internal Security coordinated raids on the would-be terrorists after noting “disturbing conversations” on the secure messaging application Telegram. A tenth suspect was apprehended in Lausanne, Switzerland, in collaboration with the Swiss authorities.
Plans for the terror attack were reportedly in an “advanced stage” and according to the French newspaper Nice Matin, the jihadists intended to kill both police and civilians.
The suspects, ranging between the ages of 18 and 65, were apprehended in synchronized arrests in France’s southern PACA region as well as the Paris suburbs of Paris Tuesday morning. Reports suggest that the raids cap a months-long investigation into the group for “criminal conspiracy for a terrorist enterprise.”
Police are now searching the homes of the suspects, some of whom were known to intelligence services for Islamic radicalization as well as a former French legionnaire who had converted to Islam. There was also one Colombian woman among those arrested. The members had formed an encrypted messaging group on Telegram. Police have reportedly confiscated computer equipment but no weapons have yet been found.
Last March, the European Commissioner of Justice proposed measures to facilitate access to encrypted data, sparking a contentious debate, but no legislation had yet been passed in that regard.
France has been especially hard hit by major jihadist attacks in recent years, and the Ministry of the Interior claims that authorities have foiled 13 more attempted attacks just since the beginning of 2017.
Nice itself has suffered from several attacks, the most lethal being the Bastille Day massacre on July 14, 2016, when a jihadist drove his truck through a crowd on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais after a, killing 84 people and injuring over 330. The driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was shot dead by security forces.
Last month, French politician Marine Le Pen called for stricter anti-terrorist legislation after an illegal Tunisian immigrant stabbed two young women to death in Marseille while shouting “Allahu Akbar” (god is greater), in a terrorist act claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
Such legislation must directly combat Islamist ideology, which “wages war” on the West, said Le Pen, the President of the National Front Party.
Le Pen has labeled current legislation “shameful” for its lack of teeth, calling instead for a “great anti-terrorist law,” which would recognize a terrorist act as “an act of war,” and which “truly combats the Islamist ideology that has planned our enslavement.”
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