After an eight-month investigation, French authorities have arrested seven people in Strasbourg and Marseille suspected of orchestrating an ISIS-linked terror plot. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for all those planning to fly to Europe for the holidays.
CNN reports that Strasbourg’s Christmas market, one of the most celebrated in Europe, may have been a target for the thwarted attack. After it opens this Friday, roughly 2 million people are expected to visit. In fact, in 2000 the wildly popular market was the target of yet another foiled plot, this one organized by the terrorist group al Qaeda.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated during a news conference that the obstructed terror plot was both “new” and “had been planned for a long time on our soil.” Investigators believe that the attack had been orchestrated by an ISIS-linked terrorist operative initiative located in Syria. Though it has not yet been determined, French officials believe that some of those arrested have traveled to Syria via Cyprus. All between the ages of 29 and 37, the seven suspects are of French, Moroccan, and Afghan nationality. The investigators were only previously aware of the Moroccan suspect thanks to intelligence received from a “neighboring country.”
The United States State Department has explained that a number of factors influenced the decision to issue a travel alert. That said, this recently-foiled attack may have been a catalyst. Via CNN:
“‘Credible information indicated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh), al Qaeda, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events. U.S. citizens should be alert to the possibility that extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks during this period with little or no warning. Terrorists may employ a wide variety of tactics, using both conventional and nonconventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests,’ stated the alert, which expires on February 20, 2017.”
France saw an especially vicious terrorist attack in Nice on July 14, when Mohamed Bouhlel killed 84 people by driving a truck through a Bastille Day celebration. In September, the country’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, emphasized that the threat of extremist attacks had reached a “maximum level.” And Minister Cazeneuve does not debate the necessity for intense caution, particularly in France.
“Never has the terrorist threat been so high in our country,” he said. “The anti-terrorist services are completely mobilized.”