Female terror cell busted in France was 'guided by ISIS'

Notre Dame car suspects linked to assailants in previous attacks in country, says prosecutor

PARIS • A "terrorist cell" made up mainly of radicalised young Frenchwomen has been dismantled by security forces, the Paris prosecutor has said, after a car filled with gas canisters was found last week in the heart of Paris.

The prosecutor, Mr Francois Molins, whose office handles domestic terrorism investigations, said on Friday that the women had been "guided remotely" from Syria by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and they had links to assailants in previous terror attacks in France.

One of the women had even been engaged to be married to two assailants, the killer of two police officers in June and the killer of a priest in July, he said. Mr Molins said the use of a terrorist cell made up almost entirely of young women represented a chilling turn in ISIS' tactics.

"If at first it appeared that women were confined to family and domestic chores by the Daesh terrorist organisation, it must be noted that this view is now completely outdated," Mr Molins said, using an Arabic name for ISIS, at a news conference on Friday in Paris.

Though the car with the gas canisters had not been rigged to explode, Mr Molins said, there were signs that it was meant to catch fire. Police found a blanket with traces of fuel and a cigarette butt in the car, a Peugeot 607 sedan, he said.

"This commando's goal was clearly to carry out an attack," he said, adding that French intelligence had gathered information pointing to an imminent attack on Thursday.

Seven people were in custody on Friday in connection with the case; five of them were women, including three who were arrested on Thursday in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, a small town about 32km south-east of Paris.

Mr Molins described the women as "totally receptive" to ISIS propaganda, and he suggested that they may have met one another online.

He identified one of the women as Ines M., the 19-year-old daughter of the owner of the Peugeot, which was found near Notre Dame Cathedral. Mr Molins said that when she was arrested, Ines M. had the keys to the car in her bag, as well as a written pledge of allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mr Molins said the Peugeot contained fingerprints and DNA linked to Ornella G., 29, who was arrested with her boyfriend earlier last week. Another couple arrested earlier in the week have been released, Agence France-Presse reported.

A figure who appears to be central to the case, Sarah H., 23, was arrested in Boussy-Saint-Antoine with Ines M. and a third woman, Amel S., 39, a resident of the town.

Mr Molins said that Sarah H. was known by intelligence services to be "particularly linked to the jihadi movement". He said she had formerly been "betrothed" to Larossi Abballa, the killer of the two police officers in Magnanville in June, and Adel Kermiche, one of the men who killed a priest in Normandy in July.

Mr Molins did say that Sarah H. had been about to enter into a religious marriage with a third man, Mohamed Lamine Aberouz, 22. Aberouz's brother was close to Abballa and was detained after the killings in Magnanville.

Amel S.'s 15-year-old daughter, whom he said was "likely to be involved in the terrorist project", was arrested on Friday, north of Paris.

Mr Molins said police found the three women using mobile phone records and other data.

Before the discovery of the Peugeot early last Sunday, Mr Molins was expressing concerns about the growing number of women involved in terrorism.

He noted in an interview with Le Monde last week that the authorities had lodged preliminary terrorism-related charges against 59 women in France, and that the hundreds of Frenchwomen who have gone to Syria may return one day with plans to conduct terrorism.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'Female terror cell busted in France was 'guided by ISIS''. Print Edition | Subscribe