Egyptian man in custody over 'foiled attack' in France

by Pauline TALAGRAND, Nathalie ALONSO
Police officers and emergency services at the site where a knifeman killed one man in Paris on May 12. The day before two Egyptian men were arrested on suspicion they were planning an attack with either explosives or the poison ricin

French police have foiled a suspected attack by a 20-year-old Egyptian man, one of three prevented by domestic intelligence agents since the start of this year, officials and sources close to the inquiry said Friday.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the attack would have been committed "with explosives or ricin, this very powerful poison".

The suspect was arrested on May 11 and charged with terrorist conspiracy on Tuesday after he was tracked down through a pro-jihadist social media account, a source close to the investigation said.

He "had tutorials that showed how to make ricin-based poisons," Collomb told BFM television.

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

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

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

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, in reference to an encrypted messaging app.

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.

- Wave of attacks -

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 live in the same northern area of Paris as Azimov, the 18th arrondissement. Parts of the district are packed with low-income high-rises and a mix of French and immigrant communities.

The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the knife attack, releasing a video purporting to show Azimov -- who was shot dead by police -- pledging allegiance to the jihadists.

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 2017.

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 jihadist strikes on French soil which have left 246 people dead.

A police source said the attack foiled this week was the third uncovered by France's DGSI domestic intelligence service so far this year.

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

Collomb said in a statement that the latest thwarted plot showed "the relevance and efficiency" of a controversial new anti-terror law passed by Macron's government to replace a state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Police officers and emergency services at the site where a knifeman killed one man in Paris on May 12. The day before two Egyptian men were arrested on suspicion they were planning an attack with either explosives or the poison ricin