France foils terror strike by man linked to Paris attackers

Rémy Bellon, Myriam Lemetayer
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Police officers and members of a mine-clearing team gather during a raid in the Argenteuil neighbourhood northwest of Paris on March 24, 2016

Police officers and members of a mine-clearing team gather during a raid in the Argenteuil neighbourhood northwest of Paris on March 24, 2016 (AFP Photo/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

Paris (AFP) - French officials said Friday they had foiled a terror attack by a suspect who had been convicted in Belgium alongside Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris.

French national Reda Kriket, 34, was arrested Thursday and during a raid on his home in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil police seized assault rifles including Kalashnikovs and TATP -- the homemade explosive of choice of the Islamic State group.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the arrest "foiled a planned attack in France, which was at an advanced stage."

French police sources said a major raid launched in Brussels on Friday was linked to the arrest, as French and Belgian authorities labour to unravel the links between jihadists in their respective countries.

Some of the TATP found in Kriket's apartment was ready to use, while police also found its ingredients, acetone and oxygenated water.

Kriket was found guilty in absentia in Brussels last July of being part of a network recruiting jihadists to Syria and sentenced to 10 years' jail, according to police sources.

Investigations showed Kriket played a key role in financing the network with money from robberies and stolen goods.

Among those who went to Syria through the network were Abaaoud and another Paris attacker, Chakib Akrouh.

Abaaoud was among 28 people convicted in the Belgian trial and was sentenced to 20 years in absentia.

Brussels, which has emerged as a hotspot for radical Islam in Europe, was hit Monday by suicide bombings which left 31 dead at the airport and on the city metro.

After the attack police found large quantities of the ingredients to make the homemade explosive TATP.

Police in Belgium and Paris are still piecing together the potential links between the November attacks and those in Brussels this week.

One of the Paris jihadists, Salah Abdeslam -- who was arrested last week in Brussels -- has been linked to Brussels suicide bomber brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

- Abaaoud the 'ringleader' -

Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, was a notorious jihadist who had appeared in grisly Islamic State group videos and was behind several failed attack plots in Europe.

On November 13, he formed part of a 10-man team of gunmen and suicide bombers that left 130 people dead in an a series of attacks on Paris, with authorities referring to him as the "ringleader".

Abaaoud was killed five days later in a police raid outside Paris, during which Akrouh blew himself up, also killing Abaaoud's female cousin.

Abaaoud and Akrouh were part of the team of jihadists who sprayed Paris restaurants and bars with gunfire on the night of the attacks, killing 39.

Abaaoud was from the Brussels immigrant district of Molenbeek, which has been thrust into the spotlight for its ties to the Paris attackers and Islamic radicalism.

It is also where Abdeslam was arrested last week after a four-month manhunt.

- Kriket -

It remains unclear where Kriket fits in.

Cazeneuve said Kriket had been under surveillance "for several weeks" and that the arrest was also the result of "close and constant cooperation between European services".

"He belongs to a terrorist network that sought to strike our country," the interior minister said.

Cazeneuve said earlier in March that France had thwarted at least six potential attacks since jihadists struck in January 2015, killing 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Since the beginning of 2016, 75 people have been arrested in France "with links to terrorist activities", 37 have been charged and 28 jailed, he said.