France foils planned attack with arrest of convicted militant

A police officer standing outside a building after an anti-terrorism operation in Argenteuil, near Paris, on March 25.
A police officer standing outside a building after an anti-terrorism operation in Argenteuil, near Paris, on March 25. PHOTO: EPA

PARIS • French officials said yesterday they had foiled a terror attack by a suspect who had been convicted in Belgium alongside Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Nov 13 terror attacks in Paris.

French national Reda Kriket, 34, was arrested on Thursday in Argenteuil, a north-western suburb of Paris, and police uncovered several assault rifles including Kalashnikovs and triacetone triperoxide, also known as TATP - the easy-to-make explosive of choice of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the arrest "foiled a planned attack in France, which was at an advanced stage".

Police sources said Kriket had been found guilty in absentia in Brussels last July of being part of a network recruiting militants to Syria and sentenced to 10 years' jail.

Investigations showed Kriket played a key role in financing the network with money from robberies and stolen goods. Among those who went to Syria through the network were Abaaoud and another Paris attacker, Chakib Akrouh.

Brussels, which has emerged as a hot spot for radical Islam in Europe, was hit on Tuesday by suicide bombings which left 31 dead at the airport and on the city metro. After the attacks, police found large quantities of the ingredients to produce the homemade explosive TATP.

Police in Belgium and Paris are still piecing together the potential links between the November attacks and those in Brussels.

More than 30 people have been identified as being involved in a network behind the Paris attacks.

A 10-man team of suicide bombers and gunmen launched attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France national stadium and a string of bars and restaurants around eastern Paris on the night of Nov 13 last year, killing 130 people and wounding another 350. Seven of the attackers died on that night, and two more, including Abaaoud, were killed the following week.

Four people carried out coordinated attacks at Brussels airport and the metro station. Two brothers, Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, were identified as suicide bombers - one at Zaventem airport and one at Maalbeek metro station. Najim Laachraoui, 24, identified as the second airport bomber, is believed to have made bombs for the November rampage in the French capital.

A third person seen on airport surveillance footage wearing a white jacket is the subject of a Belgian police manhunt after he fled the scene when his explosive-packed suitcases did not detonate.

The last surviving member of the cell directly involved in the Paris assaults, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in Brussels four days before the twin airport and metro assault.

Abdeslam, 26, said he was planning further attacks in Brussels, and links have emerged between him and the suspected Brussels assailants. He is believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris attack, renting cars and an apartment-hotel used by the terrorists.

The Bakraoui brothers had been sought by police for links to Abdeslam. Belgian television said Khalid had rented an apartment in Brussels where Abdeslam's fingerprints were found after a police raid. He is also linked to another apartment in southern Belgium that Abdeslam and other militants used before the Paris attacks.

DNA from the second airport suicide bomber Laachraoui was found at an apartment in Brussels where bomb-making equipment and one of Abdeslam's fingerprints had been found in December. His DNA was also found on explosives used in the Paris attacks.

Prosecutors have said Laachraoui "travelled to Syria in February 2013" and was registered under a false name at the border between Austria and Hungary last September.

He was travelling with Abdeslam and Mohamed Belkaid, who was killed in a Brussels raid three days before Abdeslam was captured. Belkaid is believed to have provided logistical support as well to the Paris attackers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'France foils planned attack with arrest of convicted militant'. Print Edition | Subscribe