France foiled possible ricin attack

Suspect had tutorials on how to make such poisons; plot one of three thwarted

PARIS • French police have foiled a suspected attack by an Egyptian man, possibly involving the lethal poison ricin, officials and sources close to the inquiry said yesterday.

The plot was one of three prevented by domestic intelligence agents since the start of this year, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

He said the attack would have been committed "with explosives or ricin", which he described as a very "powerful poison". The suspect "had tutorials that showed how to make ricin-based poisons", Mr Collomb told BFM television.

The man, who was born in Egypt in 1988 and living legally in France, was not previously known to security services, he said.

The suspect was arrested alongside another Egyptian, initially identified by Mr Collomb as a brother, who has been released after investigators determined he was not involved in the planned attack.

Mr Collomb said the plot was thwarted after intelligence agents intercepted messages on the secure social media platform Telegram. "We're following a number of people on (social media) networks. These two happened to be on Telegram," he told BFM TV.

The pair were detained on May 11 after a search of an apartment uncovered a bag of gunpowder obtained from fireworks and guides for making explosives and poisons, a source close to the inquiry said.

Under questioning, the suspect "freely admitted looking up jihadist propaganda and claimed that a person, not yet identified, had asked him via Telegram to find fireworks to make a bomb and strike in France", the source said.

The Interior Minister said the plot was thwarted after intelligence agents intercepted messages on the secure social media platform Telegram. "We're following a number of people on (social media) networks. These two happened to be on Telegram," he told BFM TV.

Police later found that despite later denials, in subsequent messages the suspect "had in reality accepted the mission and was ready to die as a martyr by blowing himself up", the source said.

Investigators believe the evidence suggests he was "very determined" to strike, the source added.

The two Egyptians were arrested just a day before a 29-year-old man was killed and five other people injured in a knife attack by Khamzat Azimov, a 20-year-old man of Chechen origin, in Paris last Saturday night.

They lived in the same northern 18th Arrondissement of Paris as Azimov. Parts of the district are packed with low-income high-rises and a mix of French and immigrant communities.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria later claimed responsibility for the knife attack, releasing a video purporting to show Azimov pledging allegiance to the militant group.

A friend of Azimov's, named as Abdul Hakim A., was charged with terrorist conspiracy on Thursday and two women have been detained for questioning. A source said one of the women was a radicalised 19-year-old who married Abdul Hakim A. before trying to leave for Syria in January last year.

France has been on high alert since the massacre of journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, the first in a wave of terror strikes on French soil which have left 246 people dead.

In late March, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe indicated that a total of 51 attacks had been thwarted by French security services since January 2015.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2018, with the headline 'France foiled possible ricin attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe