As Emmanuel Macron stood on the steps of Downing Street on Tuesday urging Britain’s ‘banks, talents, researchers, academics’ to move across the Channel after Brexit, security services in France were dismantling yet another Islamic terror cell preparing to launch a terrorist attack. That makes three this month, a clear indication that the Islamists are itching to carry out a major attack in the run-up to April’s presidential election. Tuesday’s police raid targeted addresses in Clermont, Marseille and the Paris area. ‘The suspects had a plot that was sufficiently advanced for the police to decide to arrest them’, said a police spokesman. According to the French media, police had been monitoring the suspects’ text messages and moved in when two men began talking of giving their plot the ‘green light’.
The latest raid follows two similar swoops by police in recent weeks. On February 10th, four people – including a 16-year-old girl – were arrested in the southern city of Montpellier and a bomb-making factory was discovered. Security officials said they had prevented an ‘imminent attack’ with the Eiffel Tower believed to be the target. Last week, an 18-year-old was arrested in Lille on suspicion of plotting attacks on the city’s metro system and in a shopping centre. Police sources said the teenager was in contact with a man in Syria ‘who may have inspired him in his plan’.
These operations are the latest successes by the French security services in their relentless fight against homegrown Islamists. In the last six months only Abdullah Reda al-Hamamy, the 29-year-old Egyptian who allegedly wounded a soldier with a machete at the Louvre, appears to have slipped through their net.
The most troubling aspect about those detained in France in recent months is their background. No longer are the suspected terrorists solely young working-class men of North African origin, like those who carried out the killings at Charlie Hebdo, the Jewish supermarket and the Bataclan. In September, police charged three women after a botched attempt to detonate a gas bomb outside Notre-Dame cathedral, and in November a suspected terror cell was broken up in Strasbourg, with one of the suspects a 37-year-old teaching assistant at a local primary school.
The 18-year-old man arrested in Lille was a university student and the 16-year-old girl detained in Montpellier was a recent convert to Islam. Unhappy after her parents’ divorce she was radicalised online in a matter of weeks and fell in love with one of her co-accused, 20-year-old Thomas Sauret, originally from the Ardennes and also a convert. Perhaps wishing to impress her new boyfriend, Sara bragged about her allegiance to the Islamic State in a video posted online on February 8. The police, who were already monitoring Thomas, decided to arrest the pair, along with Malik Hammami, a 33-year-old from Marseille described as the lovers’ ‘mentor’.
This is the underside of his nation that Macron never talks about. On the contrary, he believes it would be in the best interest of Brits to move across the Channel. ‘I think that France and the European Union are a very attractive space now’, he declared yesterday. ‘So in my programme I will do everything I can to make it attractive and successful’. Unfortunately for Macron, his ‘programme’ appears to be losing its appeal among his own people. A poll published on Tuesday, asking people their voting intentions in the first round of the presidential election, revealed that while Marine Le Pen has increased her lead, Francois Fillon has leapfrogged Macron into second place.
Fillon has weathered the storm that broke at the start of this month over allegations he paid his wife €500,000 over eight years for fictitious employment. Macron on the other hand is suffering not just from ‘his absence of a project’ but from his declaration last week that France’s colonial history in Algeria was ‘a crime against humanity’. The remarks – for which Macron subsequently apologised – were seized on by his opponents. ‘This hatred of our history, this constant repentance is undignified for a presidential candidate’, said Fillon. ‘Emmanuel Macron has no spine. He’s simply saying what people want to hear’.