A man arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in the Paris area has been charged with murder and attempted murder as well as having links with a terrorist organisation.
Sid Ahmed Ghlam was taken into custody by police on Sunday after he called an ambulance having apparently shot himself in the leg. Investigators believe he was planning an “imminent” attack in Paris or the city’s suburbs.
Investigators found an arsenal of weapons in his car, which was parked nearby, and at his student accommodation. The arms cache included several Kalashnikovs, a police-issue pistol, reported stolen, and a number of bullet-proof vests. There were also police armbands and a blue flashing light.
Documents found at his home and in a search of his computer and telephone, suggested Ghlam was in contact with a French speaker in Syria who had ordered him to carry out an attack on a church.
The 24-year-old computer student born in Algeria, was also mise en examen (put under investigation) – the equivalent of being charged – for the murder of a 32-year-old woman, who was found in the passenger seat of her own burning car on Sunday.
Dance instructor Aurélie Châtelain, a mother of one, who had just attended a Pilates class, died after she was shot three times in the head, in what police believe may have been an attempt by Ghlam to hijack her car.
After five days of questioning, Ghlam, who is still in hospital, was formally charged on Friday with “murder, attempted murder, association with criminals with a view to commit crimes against people” and for other infractions “connected to a terrorist organisation”.
The charges carry a life sentence, meaning a minimum of 18 years in prison and a maximum €225,000 (£161,000) fine.
French secret services said Ghlam was on their radar, having publicly expressed his wish to travel to Syria to fight with jihadists. He was reported to have travelled to Turkey in February and was arrested and cautioned by police on his return. However, the French authorities say there was nothing to suggest he was a serious threat….
Sure, what’s a jihad murder or two among friends? Not a serious threat!
Police are still searching for possible accomplices. A 25-year-old woman, described as a burka-wearing French convert to Islam who claimed to be Ghlam’s girlfriend was released from police custody on Friday. However, investigators say the pair sent “encrypted messages” suggesting she knew about the planned attacks.
Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said French intelligence services had foiled at least five planned terrorist attacks in France since the series of Islamist assaults in January that began at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and left 17 dead in three days of bloodshed.