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Man Was Plotting Terror Attack in Busy French Concert Venue, Police Say

Officers from France's General Directorate for Internal Security arrested the man on August 15, two months after he returned to France from a six-day trip to Syria.

by Lucie Aubourg
Sep 18 2015, 9:51pm

Image by Etienne Rouillon

French police arrested a man in August on suspicion that he was plotting a terror attack on a concert venue, French television channel BFMTV revealed Friday.

Officers from France's General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) arrested the man on August 15, two months after he returned to France from a six-day trip to Syria. The suspect — a Paris resident in his thirties — admitted during questioning that he had spent a week in the Syrian city of Raqqa in May 2015.

Located in the north of the country, Raqqa is an Islamic State (IS) stronghold in the north of Syria and has been described as the capital of the group's self-proclaimed caliphate.

Related: French Islamic State Recruits Say They Would Like to Come Home Now, Please

The suspect is believed to have sustained an injury to the leg after being hit by a grenade at the start of his training in Raqqa. He was reportedly ordered by one of the camp's leaders to return to Europe or France to carry out a terror attack. The suspect agreed to travel back to France, suggesting a busy concert hall as an ideal target for an attack.

According to reports, the suspect confessed his plans on the third day of questioning. He remains in custody today.

The man — who was being monitored by intelligence services in the six weeks leading up to his arrest — does not have a police record and was not known to security services. He came to the attention of French intelligence after a Spanish jihadist gave up his name during questioning in another EU country.

Following his brief stint in Syria, the suspect traveled back to Europe via the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, and then on to Istanbul. From Istanbul, he journeyed to Warsaw, in Poland, heading next to Amsterdam before returning to Paris. By following such a complex itinerary, he was able to escape the attention of intelligence agencies tracking the return of suspected Jihadists.

French radio France Info reported Friday that officers searching the man's home had found a handgun, but no specific information concerning a looming terror attack — such as a date or a location. Nonetheless, investigators deemed the threat serious enough to take the suspect in for questioning.

Related: French President Considers Bombing Islamic State Positions in Syria

When contacted by VICE News Friday, the French interior ministry and the Paris prosecutor's office declined to comment on the case in time for publication.

According to BFMTV, the suspect's attorney has claimed that his client never intended to go ahead with the plan, but used the promise of a terror attack to get his passport back and return to his home country.

The news of the arrest comes less than a week after French President François Hollande announced at a news conference that the government had ordered reconnaissance flights over Syria to identify potential Islamic State (IS) airstrike targets.

Hollande has suggested that airstrikes against IS in Syria could help France combat terrorism at home. France is still reeling from several terror attacks, including the January shooting at the offices of satyrical French weekly Charlie Hebdo and the foiled August terror attack on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. 

"We have proof that attacks have been planned from Syria against several countries, including France," Hollande said last week.

Some observers believe that today, France and the US are the two countries that face the biggest terror threat.

Related: France's Prison Controller Thinks Grouping Radical Inmates Together Is a Terrible Idea

On May 19, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve revealed that 278 French nationals had left Syria, of which 213 had already returned to France. 

"Today the threat is widespread, because it involves people who were born [here] and grew up among us, and who, at the end of a process of radicalization, fall into extremism and armed violence," Cazeneuve told an inquiry commission tasked with monitoring French nationals involved in Jihadist networks.

French politicians have long debated what to do about French nationals who wish to return from Syria, and the government has considered many options, including opening rehabilitation centers for returning jihadists to revoking their nationality. So far, none of these solutions have garnered unanimous support, and politicians are still at odds over how to respond to the issue of disillusioned jihadists.

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg

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