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MILITARY

France foils terror plot to decapitate army officer

A plot to behead a high ranking member of the French military and post a video of the decapitation on the web has been foiled, it was revealed this week. The French government said four young men have been taken into custody.

France foils terror plot to decapitate army officer
Photo: AFP

France has foiled a plan to attack the country's military, the interior minister said Wednesday, as a source close to the investigation said the suspects had been planning a beheading.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that four accused who had been planning “a terrorist act against French military facilities” were in custody of the country's intelligence services, the DGSI.

Aged 16 to 23 and including a former member of the navy, they were arrested at dawn in different parts of the country, the minister said.

The news of the arrests followed a statement from President Francois Hollande, who said attacks had been thwarted in recent days.

“This week, we stopped terrorist attacks which could have taken place,” Hollande said on a visit to the coastal city of Marseille.

Cazeneuve said no link had been established between the foiled assault and two blasts on Tuesday at a petrochemical plant near Marseille.

A source close to the investigation into the thwarted attack, who asked to remain anonymous, said the four people arrested had been planning to film the decapitation of high ranking member of the military.

One of four suspects, who was identified as the mastermind, had been planning to travel to jihadist-controlled areas of war-torn Syria, Cazeneuve said.

Earlier, a security source had told AFP that four suspects with an “Islamist profile” had been arrested on suspicion of planning an attack somewhere in France, without giving further details.

'Criminal' blasts

French plant blasts were 'criminal act': minister

Separately, Cazeneuve told the lower house of parliament that the two blasts at a petrochemical plant on Tuesday appear to have been a “criminal act” but investigators had yet to pin down a motive.

Officials discovered devices thought to have started the twin explosions at the plant in the small town of Berre-l'Etang near Marseille in the early hours of Tuesday, which sparked huge fires but no one was hurt.

Two tanks full of petrol and naphtha — a flammable liquid distilled from petroleum — caught fire after the blasts and a thick cloud of black smoke was visible several kilometres away.

Prosecutors said an explosive device was found in a third tank, but had failed to trigger a major explosion.

France remains on edge after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January where a trio of gunmen killed a total of 17 people starting with a massacre at the satirical magazine.

And last month, a man with suspected links to the Islamic State group spiked his boss's severed head onto the fence of a US-owned gas factory.

Paris has tightened security around sensitive sites such as factories, calling for “maximum vigilance”.

But experts have warned it is extremely difficult to defend against attacks on such sensitive sites.

“There is no such thing as zero risk,” said Philippe Prudhon, a technical expert at the UIC union of chemical industries.

“If someone really wants to cause harm, it will be difficult to stop him or her. We have to realise that we have been in a fundamentally different environment for the past three years,” Prudhon said.

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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