Just days after a man was arrested in Paris for a planned assault on churches, the Prime Minister has said French police have foiled five terrorism attacks since the Charlie Hebdo killings in January. On Sunday, an Algerian IT student — thought to have been planning to move to Syria — was apprehended after he apparently shot himself in the leg in Paris’s 13th arrondissement. In possession of a cache of weapons, he admitted he was planning to attack churches in a nearby suburb. “The threat has never been so high,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the radio station France Inter on Thursday. “We have never had to face this kind of terrorism in our history.”
The country has been on red alert since the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of the year, in which the Paris offices of the satirical weekly were stormed by gunmen and became the site of an extended siege. On Jan. 7, brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi entered the Charlie Hebdo offices, intent on seeking revenge for the magazine’s irreverent cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The masked extremists eventually left 12 people dead, and were killed themselves after a frantic manhunt. Another man, Amedy Coulibaly, claiming to be working alongside the Kouachis, attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris at the same time, killing another four people.
The attacks, whose perpetrators claimed to be affiliates of ISIS (Coulibaly) and Al Qaeda (the Kouachis), shocked France. Security has been stepped up in the wake of the killings — precautions that seem to be paying off, according to Valls’ comments Thursday. But his tone was somber as he discussed what he framed as an unprecedented danger to the nation. Valls outlined that some 1573 French citizens or residents have so far been implicated in “terror networks,” with 442 of those individuals currently believed to be residing in Syria.
According to BBC, Valls stated that 97 French nationals had died on the battlefields of Syria or Iraq, seven of whom took their own lives in suicide attacks. “The call centre allowing citizens to raise the alarm in cases of radicalization has already had more than 2,600 calls of which 630 have been judged very serious and investigated by the special services,” Valls said. He added that since 2012 “the threat has not stopped increasing.”
Indeed, the Kouachis had just returned from Syria before they launched their deadly attacks, while Sid Ahmed Ghlam — the computer science student detained Sunday — was known by authorities to have expressed a wish to go to Syria. Ghlam, 24, was discovered after he apparently shot himself in the leg and called an ambulance. His car was discovered nearby containing a cache of weapons and detailed maps of several municipal police stations. On Wednesday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said:
A terrorist attack was foiled on Sunday morning. The police discovered an arsenal of weapons of war. A document was also found showing without any doubt that the individual was planning to imminently carry out an attack. The suspect was immediately taken into custody.
According to The Guardian, Ghlam had documents pertaining to Al Qaeda and ISIS and has admitted to planning to attack one or two churches in Villejuif, a suburb of Paris. He is also suspected of the murder of a female fitness teacher. He is believed to have had co-conspirators, and police have arrested a 25-year-old woman. Ghlam has refused to speak, but authorities have been granted permission to hold him for six days more, in a special measure used to preclude possible "imminent terrorist action."
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France implemented a €425 million anti-terrorism program, including increased surveillance, more intelligence officers and police, and better security equipment. But despite the evident effectiveness of the program in thwarting impending attacks, the measures clearly do little to prevent radicalization in the first place: although preventative strategies were incorporated into the program, Valls' latest comments show that assaults continue to be planned and individuals continue to flow to Syria.
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