AFPPARIS (AFP-Jiji) — Police arrested two men in Marseille Tuesday on suspicion of planning an “imminent” attack, finding guns, explosives and an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist flag just days before the first round of France’s presidential election.
The foiled plot sparked fears that the closing days of the campaign could be a target for extremists ahead of Sunday’s vote, the country’s most unpredictable election in decades.
Elite police and intelligence agents detained the two Frenchmen — identified by sources as 23-year-old Clement Baur and Mahiedine Merabet, 29 — in the Mediterranean port city and Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said they were known to be “radicalized.”
While searching the suspects’ shared Marseille apartment, authorities uncovered an arsenal including a loaded Uzi sub-machine gun, two loaded pistols, three kilograms of TATP explosives and a homemade grenade, as well as the flag of ISIL, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.
The men both have criminal records and are suspected of plotting “an imminent, violent act on French soil, though we don’t know precisely the day, the target or targets,” Molins added.
Merabet was trying to contact ISIL to pass them “a video pledging allegiance or claiming [an attack]”, the prosecutor said, adding both suspects were on a French watch-list of extremists.
A video intercepted last week included images of a newspaper front page that bore the image of a presidential candidate whom Molins did not identify.
Despite officials giving no indication of who the men were targeting, the campaign team of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen linked the arrests to her planned campaign visit to Marseille on Wednesday.
“The fact that the two individuals were arrested in Marseille as Marine Le Pen was preparing to hold a meeting the following day is perhaps not a coincidence,” a member of her entourage said.