PARIS: French police have foiled an apparent plot to attack Notre Dame cathedral after an unmarked car filled with gas tanks and registered to a known terror suspect was found near the landmark.
Several arrests were made after the discovery of the vehicle, in which documents in Arabic were also found, according to French reports yesterday (Wednesday).
The find will raise questions about security in the French capital. Florence Berthout, centre-Right mayor of the 5th arrondissement, said she had been informed on Monday that the vehicle had "remained stationary for almost two hours" despite being in a zone where parking is "forbidden".
An anti-terror investigation has been launched following the discovery of the suspicious vehicle containing at least six gas cylinders on Sunday yards from the cathedral, one of the most visited landmarks in Paris where thousands of tourists congregate every day.
The car, a Peugeot 607 with no number plates, contained no explosives or detonators, according to French reports. "They were not linked to any kind of fuse," one source close to the investigation told l'Express. Its warning lights were on.
According to BFM TV, one empty canister was found in the back of the car and six full ones in the boot. The type of gas they contained was not specified. The channel said that a couple, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 29, were arrested in connection with the case on Tuesday night near Orange, southern France. They were reportedly on their way to Spain. Both are reportedly known to intelligence services as being "favourable to the ideas of Isil".
The couple were being questioned by French domestic intelligence agents who can hold them for 96 hours without charges under French anti-terror laws.
Police were alerted to the car when a resident rang in to say a vehicle had been poorly parked at 43 rue de la Bucherie in the 5th arrondissement with its headlights on. The caller mentioned a gas tank and the presence of "documents in Arabic".
Although unmarked, investigators quickly traced the car to its owner.
"We think that this person was conducting a test," one police source told Reuters. "The fact that there was no detonating device linked to the gas tanks and that the warning lights were left on are as if they were trying to
Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, declined to comment specifically on the arrest. But he said that any arrests were thanks to the "extreme vigilance" of police and intelligence officers. "Since the start of the year, we have arrested 260 people, most of them
incarcerated, a significant number of whom were preparing attacks that could have led to tragedies," said the minister.