Henry Samuel, Telegraph (London), July 9, 2014
France foiled an Islamist terrorist plot to target the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and even a nuclear power plant, it emerged on Wednesday, as the country unveiled new, tougher anti-terror rules.
French police stumbled on the plans after decrypting coded messages between a 29-year-old Algerian butcher living in the Vaucluse, southern France, known only as Ali M, and one of the highest-ranking members in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.
According to Le Parisien newspaper, in April last year, the married father of two who went by the pseudonym Abu Jaji was asked by his AQIM contact, whose web alias was Redouane18, to make “suggestions concerning how to conduct jihad in the place you are currently”.
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.
His contact then asked him to travel with a fellow would-be terrorist to Algeria to “benefit from a military training and training in combat techniques”.
After that, he would return to France, stake out targets and “await your instructions”.
“I am fully ready and prepared,” he replied.
Although the plans were still at the discussion stage, French police arrested the Algerian in June last year, a month before he was due to fly to Tunisia and then onto Algeria for training.
The man’s lawyer said he had been brainwashed. “The arrest was a relief for him,” Daphné Pugliesi told Le Parisien.
The revelations came as Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior minister, unveiled tougher anti-terror rules, including proposals to ban a suspect from leaving the country if it is thought he intends to fight Jihad abroad, such as in Iraq or Syria.
Last month French police arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, a French jihadist who fought in Syria, and allegedly killed four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May after travelling back to Europe.
The new legislation, to be presented to parliament “in the coming days”, will also make it easier to target “lone wolves” and create new powers to force internet providers to block Islamist hate propaganda.
It will also allow investigators to use pseudonyms to go undercover in pro-jihadist sites.
Marc Trevidic, one of France’s highest-profile anti-terror judges, said the case of Ali M was far from being isolated. “There are doubtless others on our soil programmed to harm French interests,” he told Le Parisien.
Some 800 French nationals or residents are thought to have left to fight in Syria since the start of the civil war.