Police in southern France have arrested four women and a girl as part of an anti-terrorist investigation into a suspected attack plot targeting the city of Montpellier, Euronews reports.
A police official in the Herault region confirmed the overnight arrests in the city of Beziers, and said Sunday that the DGSI domestic intelligence service and national anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office are handling the investigation. None of the five women taken into custody is known to the police.
Investigators centred on an 18-year-old woman living in a housing project in Beziers who is suspected of plotting an attack targeting nearby Montpellier, according to far-right Mayor Robert Menard.
“The 18-year-old’s mother and three sisters were also arrested, including one who is a minor,” he said.
The 18-year-old had “boasted” to neighbours about watching videos of so-called Islamic State terror group, Menard told The Associated Press.Menard added that he didn’t know whether she or her family had been on authorities’ radar for radicalism.
Menard, who was alerted by police to the operation, said he spoke with rattled neighbours at the scene.
“They’re horrified. They fear it gives a bad image of this neighbourhood, and the Muslim community here,” he said.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin thanked intelligence services for protecting French citizens. He told reporters that the terror threat in the country was still “extremely high.”
“I do not know yet if it is a foiled attack but serious threats were flagged and it is with good reason that the DGSI, under my authority and that of the justice ministry, intervened,” Darmanin said.
Several French news outlets reported earlier that authorities had learned a woman – who has not been publicly identified – was planning a terrorist attack on a religious site in the southern city of Montpellier during the Easter holidays. She was said to have been radicalized by watching videos from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).
The woman was apprehended on Saturday night in the city of Beziers, 70km from Montpellier, and taken into custody along with her mother and three sisters, one of whom is a minor.
During a search of the women’s home, police reportedly found a sharp sword and chemicals that could be used for explosives. At the same time, Le Point magazine cited a source which said the chemicals may have been bought for household use. A probe has been launched into whether the woman had ties to terrorist groups.
Beziers Mayor Robert Menard told Le Figaro newspaper that the detained family were “Islamists.” He added that the city’s La Deveze neighborhood, where the family lives, is “a difficult district affected by massive immigration.”
Even if the terrorist acts of jihadist inspiration are overwhelmingly executed by men, women have already been convicted in France for such acts.
Four women who had become the “face of feminine jihad”, according to the anti-terrorism prosecution at the time, includes Ornella Gilligmann and Inès Madani who had tried to detonate a car near Notre-Dame de Paris in 2016, sentences to up to 30 years of criminal imprisonment in 2019. The appeal trial of Inès Madani and Mohamed Lamine Aberouz is to be held in May in Paris.