PARIS (Reuters) - A thwarted attack on a French naval site that was to include the beheading of the base’s chief officer followed a direct order from a Syria-based member of Islamic State to “hit France”, the Paris prosecutor said on Friday.
The prosecutor’s statement was issued after the interrogation of three suspects, including a former officer at the semaphore unit on the southern French coast. French authorities announced their arrests on Wednesday.
The episode underscores the continuing threat to France from Islamist militants in the wake of January’s killings by gunmen at a satirical magazine and Jewish food store in Paris. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said the terror threat has never been higher.
In the latest case, the attack was due to take place in January 2016, although the suspects claimed during questioning there was no intent to mark the anniversary of the Paris shootings, the prosecutor said.
“The three of them planned to kill the army officers at the site, behead the site’s commanding officer, film the whole thing and then flee to Syria,” the Paris prosecutor said, quoting the testimony of one of the suspects, identified as “Ismael K.”
It cited the former semaphore officer, “Djebril A.”, as saying he had suggested to the others that the attack take place at the Cap Bear site close to France’s border with Spain in late December or early January, “when surveillance of the site was lower”.
The prosecutor’s statement said the three suspects, who included a third man named as “Antoine F.”, were being investigated on charges of preparing a terrorist act.
The three suspects consumed Islamic State propaganda on the Internet and “Ismael K.” had direct exchanges with an unnamed member of the group in Syria, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Authorities are separately holding on terror charges a man who last month beheaded his boss and pinned his head on the fence of a gas plant he subsequently sought to blow up.
Yassin Salhi has told investigators he was not motivated by his connections with Islamist militants, an assertion prosecutors reject.
Reporting by Mark John; editing by Digby Lidstone