French police intercepted a plot by Al Qaeda-linked operatives, including a suspect who is a local halal butcher, to bomb the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum, a nuclear power plant and an arts festival, French and British media are reporting. Among the ideas exchanged was to target specifically low-income French citizens.
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported that police “stumbled on” the terrorist plot after decrypting coded messages exchanged between the butcher, a 29-year-old French national of Algerian descent in southern France, and a top member of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, or AQIM.
The butcher was identified only as Ali M, a married father of two, Le Parisien newspaper reported. Ali M was asked by his AQIM contact who went by the alias Redouane18 for “suggestions concerning how to conduct jihad in the place you are currently.” The Telegraph reported:
Ali M suggested targeting nuclear power plants, “planes at the moment of take-off”, and a string of French landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum in Paris. Failing that, he suggested launching terror attacks on “the modest and poor French population” in markets or nightclubs, as well as police patrols.
In an apparent reference to the famed Avignon theatre festival, he also singled out “cultural events that take place in the south of France in which thousands of Christians gather for a month”.
“The main walkways become black with people and a simple grenade can injure dozens of people, not to mention a booby trapped device,” he said.
Le Parisien reported that the two exchanged messages for a year. The messages were decrypted after Ali M was arrested a year ago when he was set to make his way to Algeria to train with AQIM.
His instructions from his AQIM handler were to get his terrorist training in Algeria then travel back to France to “await your instructions.”
“I am fully ready and prepared,” he replied.
Ali M’s lawyer said he had been brainwashed.
“The arrest was a relief for him,” Daphne Pugliesi told Le Parisien.
France is scrambling to find ways to thwart its citizens bent on jihad from traveling to Syria and Iraq, including the introduction of new anti-terror rules.
Hundreds of French citizens have answered the call of the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq, leaving their homes to join the battle for an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and beyond. European security officials are concerned they will then return to Europe with designs to attack the home front.
French Muslim Mehdi Nemmouche was arrested last month as the key suspect in the killing of four at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. He had reportedly previously traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamist rebels.
We will be discussing this story and all the day’s news on our live BlazeCast with Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker (@bakerlink) beginning at 3pm ET: