PARIS • Three women arrested in connection with a car loaded with gas cylinders found in a side road near Notre Dame Cathedral had been planning an attack on a Paris railway station, the French Interior Ministry said yesterday.
French President Francois Hollande said a terror cell had been shut down and an attack "foiled" after the arrests of the women, the youngest of whom was named as Ines Madani, 19.
"A group has been neutralised. Others are out there," Mr Hollande said yesterday on the sidelines of a summit of southern European states in Athens.
An Interior Ministry official said after the arrests: "An alert has been issued to all stations, but they had planned to attack the Gare de Lyon on Thursday."
The Gare de Lyon station is in the south-east of Paris, less than 3km from the cathedral.
The official also said Madani, whose father is the owner of the car and who is already suspected by police of wanting to leave and fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Syria, had written a letter pledging allegiance to the militant group.
These three women, aged 39, 23 and 19, had been radicalised, were fanatics and were in all likelihood preparing an imminent, violent act.
FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER BERNARD CAZENEUVE
The discovery on Saturday night of the Peugeot 607 laden with seven gas cylinders, six of them full, triggered a terrorism investigation and revived fears about further attacks in a country where Islamist militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.
Scores of religiously radicalised people of French and other nationalities are in Syria and Iraq fighting for ISIS. Many of those involved in recent attacks in France either have taken part in the fighting or were planning to.
France is among the countries bombing ISIS strongholds, and the group has urged supporters to launch more attacks on French soil.
Police shot and wounded Madani as they swooped on her and her accomplices, aged 23 and 39. Madani, believed to be the main suspect, reportedly stabbed a police officer during her arrest.
TV footage showed a policeman leaving the scene of the arrests, south-east of Paris, carrying a large knife.
Hours later, the fiance of the 23-year-old woman was also arrested. He was known to intelligence services for links to radical Islam, sources close to the investigation said. His brother is in custody over suspected links to Larossi Abballa, a militant who killed a police officer and his girlfriend in a Paris suburb in June, the sources said.
Police said no detonator had been found in the car, although the vehicle also contained three jerry cans of diesel fuel.
When it was found in the early hours of Sunday, the car had no registration plates and had been left with its hazard lights flashing.
"These three women, aged 39, 23 and 19, had been radicalised, were fanatics and were in all likelihood preparing an imminent, violent act," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a televised statement.
The arrests bring to eight the number of people detained since Tuesday. The arrests occurred in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, 30km from Paris.
The car's owner was taken into custody earlier this week but later released. He had gone to police on Sunday to report that his daughter had disappeared with his car, officials said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE