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TERRORISM

What we know about France’s foiled terror plot

The French government revealed on Wednesday night that specialist counter-terror police had thwarted a plot to kidnap and behead a military chief and film the barbaric act on a go-pro camera. Here's what we know about the latest foiled terror plot in France.

What we know about France's foiled terror plot
Beheading was to be filmed on a go-Pro camera. Photo: AFP

France is on high alert for more terror attacks with the French PM Manuel Valls recently declaring that it was a question of when, and not if, another atrocity would take place on French soil.

After the January shootings in Paris and the beheading of a local businessman in an attempt to blow up a factory near Lyon last month, French counter-terror police have been expecting more attacks.

This week it emerged they had foiled another gruesome plot, this time to strike at the heart of the French army.

Here's what we know:

What was the actual plot?

According to the Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve the suspects arrested on Monday were planning to “strike against France’s military installations”.

As more details slipped out on Thursday it emerged that they were planning to target the Fort Bear military base at Port-Vendres, near the city of Perpignan in the south west.

The location was apparently chosen because of its symbolism. Fort Bear is one of the training centres for France's special commando forces who take part in foreign missions such as the French intervention in Mali and Central African Republic.

Sources close to the investigation have told French media that they planned to kidnap and then behead a high-ranking member of the military on January 7th 2016, to mark a year since the terror attacks in Paris.

The horrific decapitation was to be filmed on a go-pro camera and the video uploaded to the internet for all to see.

(The military base at Port Vendres, where the alleged terror plot was due to take place)

Who are the suspects:

Four young men were arrested on Monday after dawn raids were carried out in various parts of France. The youngest of them was aged just 16. He was later released on Thursday morning when the time limits for keeping him in custody ran out. The others were aged 17, 19 and 23 years old.

According to the three other suspects the 16-year-old was eventually sidelined from the plot because they deemed him too young.

All the suspects were described as “radicalised Muslims”.

The 23-year-old, considered one of the leaders of the group, is believed to be an ex-member of the French navy. He was apparently kicked out of France’s national marines at the beginning of the year for apparent bad behaviour. He had been based at the Fort Bear base and it was former commanding officer that they apparently wanted to target.

According to reports he liked to be known as “the Emir”.

How was the plot foiled?

According to France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve the 17-year-old member of the group came on the radar of French intelligence services after expressing his desire to go and fight in Syria.

They became aware of him because it became clear he had been radicalised as he was active on social network sites and had been in contact with French jihadists who are now in prison.

According to French police sources quoted by BFM TV, this suspect had already been questioned by France’s counter-terrorist police at the DGSI back in the autumn of 2014.

Authorities didn’t have enough evidence to file charges against him but instead placed him under surveillance by wiretapping his phone. This led investigators to the other suspects.

The DGSI decided to carry out their raids this week, fearing that the plot could be put into action sooner than first thought. With France celebrating its national day on July 14th they decided they could not take the risk of simply keeping the suspects under surveillance.

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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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