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TERRORISM

Massacre avoided as France foils another terror plot

A French terror suspect was found with an arsenal of weapons and explosives suggesting he was ready to carry out a similar kind of attack to the massacre of 130 people in Paris last November.

Massacre avoided as France foils another terror plot
Photo: AFP

France on Wednesday charged the main suspect in a foiled attack plot with membership of a terrorist organization after police found an arsenal of weapons and explosives at his home.

French national Reda Kriket, 34, was arrested near Paris last week and a police raid on his apartment netted a cache of assault rifles, handguns and TATP, the highly volatile homemade explosive favoured by Isis jihadists.

State prosecutor Francois Molins said Wednesday that “no specific target” had been identified for the foiled attack, but the cache of weapons showed an imminent act of “extreme violence” had likely been prevented.

Kriket's arrest came just four months after jihadists killed 130 people in the French capital.

Investigators have been stepping up efforts to smash a tangled web of Isis-linked extremists blamed for both the November Paris attacks and last week's suicide bombings on Brussels airport and metro that killed 32 people.

Another French suspect, 32-year-old Anis Bahri, was arrested in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on Sunday in connection with the foiled Paris plot and is fighting extradition to France.

Both Kriket and Bahri are believed to have travelled to Syria in late 2014 or early 2015, and since then between France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the French prosecutor said.

Two other suspects – Abderrahmane Ameroud, 38, and Rabah M., 34 – have been charged in Belgium over the foiled plot and will be held for another week, the country's federal prosecutor said.

The arrests highlight the extensive links investigators have uncovered between French and Belgian Isis cells behind the Brussels and Paris attacks.

Kriket, who is linked to the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, was found guilty in absentia in Brussels in July of being part of a jihadist recruitment network and sentenced to ten years in jail.

Investigations showed Kriket played a key role in financing the recruitment network with money from robberies and stolen goods.

France charges prime suspect in foiled attack plot

Brussels airport still closed

Brussels airport said it would remain closed to passenger flights until at least late Thursday afternoon as the operator carries out further tests.

“The evaluation of the trial is still ongoing and will take at least till tomorrow afternoon. No flights till then,” the airport operator said Wednesday on Twitter.

The airport has been shut since suicide bombers Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui blew themselves up in the departure hall on March 22nd.

The metro, which was due to be fully operational on Wednesday, is still running on a limited service after the national security council judged the decision to reopen premature.

The mayor of the Brussels district of Molenbeek, Francoise Schepmans, meanwhile, said far-right extremists had been banned from holding a planned anti-Islam rally in the neighbourhood after talks with police.

The impoverished immigrant neighbourhood has long been seen as a hotbed of Islamist extremism and the prime suspect in the Paris attacks was arrested there earlier this month.

Criticism of the Belgian authorities' handling of the attacks probe has mounted after the sole suspect charged over the attacks was freed on Monday for lack of evidence.

Prosecutors had charged the suspect, named by media as Faycal Cheffou, with “terrorist murder” and were investigating whether he was the third airport attacker who fled after his bomb did not detonate.

But the hunt is now back on for the so-called “man in the hat”, seen in CCTV footage next to the two suicide bombers at the airport.

Investigators are looking for Naim Al Hamed, whose fingerprints were found at the apartment used by the Brussels airport bombers, but they do not know whether he is the “third man” in the attack or another fugitive.

Al Hamed has been linked to Salah Abdeslam, the key suspect in the Paris attacks, who was arrested in Brussels on March 18th after more than four months on the run.

A closed-door hearing on Thursday will decide whether Abdeslam should be extradited to France.

Belgium has also been accused of missing a series of leads linking the Paris attacks to those behind the Brussels bombings.

In the most damning revelation, Turkey said Belgium ignored warnings from Ankara after it deported airport suicide bomber Bakraoui as a “terrorist fighter” last year following his arrest near the Syrian border.

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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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