PARIS (Reuters) - Security forces prevented an attack on French military installations this week by arresting four people whose leader had links to jailed jihadists, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Wednesday.
According to a source close to the situation, the attackers had planned to act in January 2016 and were targeting a senior military official in the south of France.
The four were aged between 16 and 23 and arrested in different places around France, the minister said. One was ex-military, he added.
The announcement came as France is on high alert after 17 people were killed in attacks in and around Paris in January.
Last month, a suspected Islamist beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a U.S-owned industrial gas plant in the suburbs of Lyon.
French authorities have also confirmed that two fires that broke out at a petrochemical facility near Marseille on Tuesday were started deliberately. No motive has been established for the arson attacks, and Cazeneuve said no link had been made between the incidents.
The arrests were made at dawn on Monday, the day before Bastille Day, France’s national public holiday.
“At the (Bastille Day) ceremony, the President reminded us that every week we prevent... terrorist acts,” Cazeneuve said. “That was once again the case this week.”
Cazeneuve said the leader of the group was also known to have wanted to go and fight in Syria.
He said security forces had now identified 1,850 people normally resident in France who were known to be involved in jihadist networks.
Of those, about 500 were currently fighting with Islamists in Syria and Iraq. France had issued 118 prevention orders stopping people from leaving the country.
Additional reporting by Gregory Blachier and Nicolas Bertin; Editing by Andrew Heavens