Three French women charged over plot to blow up Notre Dame cathedral
Paris // Three women arrested after a foiled plot to blow up a car packed with gas canisters near the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris were charged with terror offences on Monday.
The women were detained last week after the discovery of the vehicle near Notre Dame on September 4. Police believe they were planning other attacks including striking a train station in the Paris area or targeting police.
The suspects — named as 19-year-old Ines Madani, 23-year-old Sarah Hervouet and 39-year-old Amel Sakaou — were brought before antiterrorism judges on Monday and charged with involvement in a terrorist conspiracy.
The two youngest were also charged with plotting to kill public officials, while Hervouet’s boyfriend was charged with failing to report a terrorist offence.
The trio was remanded in custody.
The women are believed by police to have been spurred by repeated calls by the ISIL group for attacks in France, with a known French ISIL recruiter linked to the case.
France is on heightened alert after two grisly attacks in July — one in the southern resort of Nice, where a lorry driver crushed 86 people to death and another in Normandy, where two men slit the throat of an elderly priest.
The country has been repeatedly targeted by ISIL in the last two years, with an assault on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015 followed by a rampage by gunmen in Paris in November.
Prime minister Manuel Valls on Sunday said the terror threat was at a “maximum” and that the authorities were foiling attacks and smashing extremist networks “every day”.
As many as 15,000 people were considered by French authorities as radicals who posed a potential threat, he added.
Sources close to the investigation said the women had discussed obtaining suicide belts or ramming cars filled with explosives into buildings.
One of them was found in possession of a letter professing her allegiance to ISIL, which ordered the carnage in Paris in November that killed 130 people.
A 15-year-old boy arrested in eastern Paris at the weekend was also brought before investigating magistrates on Monday to be charged with conspiring to commit attacks.
The youth had written to contacts on Telegram — an encrypted messaging app widely used by extremists to communicate — of his plans to carry out a knife attack, sources said.
The women were arrested after police were alerted to a Peugeot 607 car parked near the Notre Dame cathedral in the middle of one of Paris’s busiest tourist spots on September 4.
It was found to contain five gas cylinders, three bottles of diesel and a half-smoked cigarette inside.
A fourth woman, Ornella Gilligmann, who has been charged with terrorism over the find, told police she and Madani had tried to set the vehicle alight but fled when they saw a man they believed to be a police officer approach.
Investigators moved quickly to arrest her suspected accomplices, believing them to be on the cusp of staging an attack.
During their arrest in the southern Paris suburb of Essonne, Hervouet stabbed a policeman, injuring him in the shoulder.
Madani was shot in the leg after she also charged at an officer with a knife.
Both were known to police for their links to extremist groups.
Published: September 13, 2016 04:00 AM