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France Arrests Man Suspected of Planning Church Attacks

  • Lisa Schlein

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, leave the Elysee Palace in Paris after a cabinet meeting, April 22, 2015.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, leave the Elysee Palace in Paris after a cabinet meeting, April 22, 2015.

French officials said they have arrested an Islamic extremist who was heavily armed and suspected of planning attacks on one or more churches.

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says police have arrested a 24-year-old French-Algerian IT student who is suspected of being an Islamist extremist. The man was taken into custody Sunday. It is not immediately clear why the authorities made the announcement on Wednesday.

Cazeneuve says police discovered an arsenal of weapons in his car, parked in a Paris neighborhood. He said they also discovered documents showing the suspect allegedly planned on carrying out an attack on one or two churches in the Paris suburb of Villejuif.

Police were reportedly alerted when the man called an ambulance after he apparently shot himself in the leg. He is also suspected in the killing of a woman, who was found shot dead in her car in Villejuif.

News reports say police are questioning his family. Cazeneuve said the man has been on the police radar for some time, because he planned to leave for Syria. Police had made checks on him in 2014 and 2015 without finding anything that would warrant further investigation, Reuters reported. Hundreds of French youth have headed to Syria and Iraq in recent months to join extremist groups.

Unprecedented terrorist threat

In a statement, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France, like other nations, is facing an unprecedented terrorist threat the country must face with lucidity and determination.

France has increased security operations since early January, when Islamic militants opened fire on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and began a three-day shooting spree that left 20 people dead. Thousands of police and soldiers are now guarding synagogues, media outlets and other sensitive sites around France.

Shift in focus

Analyst Frederic Encel says the foiled church plot has shifted the focus on Christians as targets.

Encel told France Info radio that today’s radical Islamists have revived old views of churches as symbols of Western imperialism and meddling - regardless of their denomination. A recent video, allegedly made by the Islamic State group and showing the executions of Ethiopian Christians in Libya, has shocked the world.

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