By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security
On Nov. 25, French police arrested ISIS operatives for attempting to commit a terrorist attack in France. According to French prosecutor Francois Molins, Paris domestic intelligence units pursued a nearly year-long investigation on the suspects.
The suspects received orders to obtain money and weapons in order to commit a large-scale attack. A commander from Iraq or Syria, presumably a member of ISIS, gave the group instructions via encrypted smartphone apps. The commander’s identity has not been disclosed.
Terrorists’ Attack Target Remains Unconfirmed
According to sources and reports, the suspects were to execute an attack on December 1 in Strasbourg, but there was no specified location. Amidst rumors that the plot was to target Disneyland, cafes and markets, Molins, who prosecutes terrorist cases within France, did not confirm the reports.
Seven suspects were arrested and two were released on their own recognizance. Five remain in custody as intelligence and law enforcement agencies continue their investigation.
Strasbourg Christmas Market Possible Target for Terrorists
The impending attack could not have been better planned or equipped. France has already faced three major terrorist attacks in 2015 alone, which killed over 200 people.
According to Benoit Morenne of the New York Times, “the arrests came shortly before the popular Christmas market in Strasbourg that opened on Friday, which attracts nearly two million visitors each year.” The suspects were arrested between Strasbourg and Marseille, where their leader gave them additional details about the proposed attack.
Authorities confiscated devices that contained information describing money sources and directions on where to acquire weapons and ammunition. In addition, there were notes found in one of the suspects’ apartments. The notes contained writings that pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Under Parisian law, investigators have the right to search and seize dwellings to obtain any data involving terrorist plots. Morenne stated that the people who are currently detained have been identified as “Yassine B., 37, a school employee, Hicham M., 37, a warehouse worker, Sami B., 36, a French-Tunisian father of three who worked in a grocery store, and Zacaria M., 35, a French-Moroccan whose employment status was not disclosed…The fifth suspect was identified as Hicham E., a 26-year-old Moroccan citizen who left his country in 2013.”
At least four of the suspects knew each other and had frequent conversations via landline communication. All of the suspects have been known to travel between France, Turkey, Syria and Greece. The Irish Times stated that five days after being detained, police moved the suspects to the Parisian court system to “face counter-terrorism investigating judges.”
Although these suspects have been arrested, the investigation continues. French authorities are still determining if there are additional terrorism cells or potential threats to French locations.