Foiled terror suspect ‘controlled’ from Syria

The student suspected of planning to launch a terror attack on churches in Paris was to appear before judges on Friday as police become convinced he was "controlled remotely by mysterious men" probably in Syria.

Foiled terror suspect 'controlled' from Syria
Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who is suspected of planning a Charlie Hebdo style attack on churches in Paris. Photo: Screengrab iTele

French police were on Friday trying to unravel the mystery around a thwarted church attack in which an Algerian jihadist sympathizer was "remote-controlled" by commanders likely in Syria.

Sid Ahmed Ghlam, 24, was being questioned for a fifth day after his custody was extended under special French anti-terror laws which allow police to interrogate a suspect for up to six days if there is a "risk of an imminent attack".

On Friday afternoon reports said that investigators had decided not to extend his custody any longer and will instead present Ghlam before specialist judges who will decide whether or not to charge him in relation to terrorist offences.

A 25-year-old woman that he was in contact with will also be released, according to the reports, after she too was arrested on Wednesday.

Ghlam, an Algerian IT student, was detained on Sunday when police made the fluke discovery of his plans to attack one or two churches in the town of Villejuif, just south of Paris.

He called paramedics saying he had accidentally shot himself in the leg and police later discovered an arsenal of weapons, tactical gear and cellphones in his car and student flat.

They also found detailed plans to attack the churches and linked his DNA to the murder of a young mother in Villejuif who was found shot dead in the passenger seat of her car on Sunday.

Security sources said the killing may have resulted from an attempt to steal the vehicle of 32-year-old Aurélie Chatelain.

A police source told AFP the suspect had an unusual profile and appeared to be "remote-controlled from afar by one or more mysterious men" likely in Syria who ordered him to target churches.

Interrogated from his hospital bed, Ghlam was not being very talkative, said police sources, adding he seemed torn between "wanting to talk (but) as if moved by some force obliging him not to say anything."

"He appeared literally under the heel of" his commanders who told him where and how to get his hands on the kalashnikovs, pistols and bulletproof vests found by police, said the police source.

(The steeple of the Saint-Cyr and Sainte-Julitte church, in Villejuif, outside Paris. This church was probably a target of Sid Ahmed Ghlam. Photo: AFP)

'Masses of electronic data'

Investigators have also seized "masses of electronic data" including encrypted messages between him and the 25-year-old woman in his circle.

She has denied investigators' accusations that Ghlam planned to seek refuge at her house after carrying out the attack.

"Everything was done to avoid being detected," said a source close to the investigation.

The foiled plot comes less than four months after the jihadist killing spree on Charlie Hebdo magazine and other targets around Paris that left 17 people dead.

With Paris still on high alert after the attacks, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has ordered authorities to step up security around churches.

Ghlam, a fresh-faced IT student with no criminal record, had previously drawn the attention of French intelligence agents over his postings on social networks expressing his desire to join jihadists fighting in Syria in 2014, and a trip to Turkey at the start of this year.

But a probe by intelligence services found there was not enough evidence for round-the-clock surveillance, according to Cazeneuve.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said over 1,500 French citizens have been implicated in "terror networks", 442 of whom were currently believed to be in Syria.

With the country a prime target of the Islamic State group, which has singled France out in several videos, fears are high that those who return radicalized may carry out attacks on home soil.

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Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim’s x-ray

A Paris court on Wednesday convicted a surgeon for trying to sell an X-Ray image of a wounded arm of a woman who survived the 2015 terror attacks in the French capital.

Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim's x-ray

Found guilty of violating medical secrecy, renowned orthopaedic surgeon Emmanuel Masmejean must pay the victim €5,000 or face two months in jail, judges ordered.

Masmejean, who works at the Georges-Pompidou hospital in western Paris, posted the image of a young woman’s forearm penetrated by a Kalashnikov bullet on marketplace Opensea in late 2021.

The site allows its roughly 20 million users to trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – certificates of ownership of an artwork that are stored on a “blockchain” similar to the technology used to secure cryptocurrencies.

In the file’s description, the surgeon wrote that the young woman he had operated on had “lost her boyfriend in the attack” on the Bataclan concert hall, the focus of the November 2015 gun and bomb assault in which jihadists killed 130 people.

The X-Ray image never sold for the asking price of $2,776, and was removed from Opensea after being revealed by investigative website Mediapart in January.

Masmejean claimed at a September court hearing that he had been carrying out an “experiment” by putting a “striking and historic medical image” online – while acknowledging that it had been “idiocy, a mistake, a blunder”.

The court did not find him guilty of two further charges of abuse of personal data and illegally revealing harmful personal information.

Nor was he barred from practicing as prosecutors had urged, with the lead judge saying it would be “disproportionate and inappropriate” to inflict such a “social death” on the doctor.

The victim’s lawyer Elodie Abraham complained of a “politically correct” judgement.

“It doesn’t bother anyone that there’s been such a flagrant breach of medical secrecy. It’s not a good message for doctors,” Abraham said.

Neither Masmejean, who has been suspended from his hospital job, nor the victim were present for Wednesday’s ruling.

The surgeon may yet face professional consequences after appearing before the French medical association in September, his lawyer Ivan Terel said.