French prosecutor warns of elevated terror attack threat

September 2, 2022 GMT

PARIS (AP) — There is an elevated threat of terror attacks on French soil by Islamic extremists coming from Iraq and Syria, France’s national anti-terrorism prosecutor warned Friday.

Jean-Francois Ricard said in an interview on French news broadcaster BFM TV that terrorist acts carried out “by individuals coming from areas where terrorists are operating, especially the Iraqi-Syrian area” cannot be ruled out.

Ricard’s comments come ahead of the opening of the trial of eight suspects in connection with the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice that left 86 people dead.

Ricard said the extremist threat has increased since 2020. “For two years, we’ve been able to see how the Islamic State group was regaining some pieces of territory, was restructuring itself” in Iraq and Syria.

He pointed to the January attack in Syria by Islamic State militants of a prison holding suspected extremists in the northeastern city of Hassakeh.

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Individuals convicted in France on terror-related charges and are set to be released pose another threat, Ricard said.

“Very often they have abandoned none of their convictions,” he said, adding however that France’s judicial and intelligence services will keep a close watch on that released inmates.

The prosecutor said French authorities will “need to do everything we can” to prevent determined terrorists from committing attacks.

“It’s a true problem that we must certainly not deny,” he said.

The Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the July 14, 2016 attack in Nice. The attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who plowed a 19-ton truck into a crowd assembled for the fireworks display, was shot dead by police.

French authorities said Bouhlel, a Tunisian with French residency, was inspired by the extremist group’s propaganda, but they say no evidence has been found that IS orchestrated the attack. The trial is to take place at a special court for terrorist cases in Paris.

In June, 20 men were convicted in connection with the 2015 Paris terror attacks on the Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and the national stadium that resulted in 130 deaths. Most attention had focused on the lone surviving member of the Islamic State attack team, Salah Abdeslam. The other suspects were found guilty of assisting in the preparation of the attacks or hiding Abdeslam from police. Some are presumed dead in Syria and were tried in absentia.