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Three French women charged over terror plots

Police patrol in front of Paris's Notre Dame cathedral
Police patrol in front of Paris's Notre Dame cathedral Reuters/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Three women arrested after a foiled plot to blow up a car packed with gas canisters near the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris were charged with terror offences on Monday. The women were detained last week after the discovery of the vehicle near Notre Dame on 4 September.

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The suspects, aged 19, 23, and 39, were brought before anti-terrorism judges on Monday and charged with involvement in a terrorist conspiracy. According to a statement, the two youngest were also charged with plotting to kill public officials, whle one of the women's boyfriend was charged with failing to report a terrorist offence.

Police believe the three women were planning other attacks including striking a train station in the Paris area or targeting police. Sources close to the investigation said the women had discussed obtaining suicide belts or ramming cars filled with explosives into buildings.

One of them was found in possession of a letter professing her allegiance to the so-called Islamic State armed group (IS), which ordered the carnage in Paris last November that left 130 people dead.

The women were arrested after police were alerted to a Peugeot 607 car parked near the Notre Dame cathedral in the middle of one of Paris's busiest tourist spots. It was found to contain five gas cylinders, three bottles of diesel and a half-smoked cigarette inside.

A fourth woman, who has been charged with terrorism over the find, told police she and one of the other accused had tried to set the vehicle alight but fled when they saw a man they believed to be a police officer approach.

Investigators moved quickly to arrest her suspected accomplices, believing them to be on the cusp of staging an attack.

During their arrest in the southern Paris suburb of Essonne, one of the accused stabbed a policeman, injuring him in the shoulder. A second suspect was shot in the leg after she also charged at an officer with a knife. Both were known to police for their links to Islamist radicals.

A police search of one of the women's homes found seven empty glass bottles and pieces of paper that "could look like paper fuses" but no explosives.

A 15-year-old boy arrested in eastern Paris at the weekend was also brought before investigating magistrates on Monday to be charged with conspiring to commit attacks. The youth had reportedly written to contacts on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app widely used by jihadists to communicate, of his plans to carry out a knife attack. The case has highlighted the possible role of a 29-year-old Frenchman and IS member who police believe is directing jihadists over Telegram.

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