France foils terror strike by man linked to Paris attackers

Police officers outside a building where an anti-terrorism operation took place in Argenteuil, near Paris.
Police officers outside a building where an anti-terrorism operation took place in Argenteuil, near Paris.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - French officials said on Friday (March 25) that 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 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". Some of the TATP was ready to use, while police also found its ingredients, acetone and oxygenated water.

Police sources said Kriket had been found guilty in absentia in Brussels last July of being part of a network recruiting extremists 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.

Abaaoud was among 28 convicted in the Belgian trial and was sentenced to 20 years in absentia.

Brussels, which has emerged as a hotspot for radical Islam in Europe, was hit on Monday by suicide bombings which left 31 dead at the airport and on the city metro.

After the attack police found large quantities of the ingredients to make the homemade explosive TATP.

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

One of the Paris jihadists, Salah Abdeslam - who was arrested last week in Brussels - has been linked to Brussels suicide bomber brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, was a notorious extremist who had appeared in grisly ISIS videos and was behind several failed attack plots in Europe.

On Nov 13, he formed part of a 10-man team of gunmen and suicide bombers that left 130 people dead in an a series of attacks on Paris, with authorities referring to him as the "ringleader".

Abaaoud was killed five days later in a police raid outside Paris, during which Akrouh blew himself up, also killing Abaaoud's female cousin.

Abaaoud and Akrouh were part of the team who sprayed Paris restaurants and bars with gunfire on the night of the attacks, killing 39.

Abaaoud was from the Brussels immigrant district of Molenbeek, which has been thrust into the spotlight for its ties to the Paris attackers and Islamic radicalism.

It is also where Abdeslam was arrested last week after a four-month manhunt.

It remains unclear where Kriket fits in, if at all.

Mr Cazeneuve said Kriket had been under surveillance "for several weeks" and that the arrest was also the result of "close and constant cooperation between European services".

"He belongs to a terrorist network that sought to strike our country," the interior minister said.

Mr Cazeneuve said earlier in March that France had thwarted at least six potential attacks since extremists struck in January 2015, killing 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Since the beginning of 2016, 75 people have been arrested in France "with links to terrorist activities", 37 have been charged and 28 jailed, he said.