France has had a busy year with Islamic attacks becoming a normal expectation of daily life. This is to be expected in a nation where the Muslim population is approaching 10% of the total.
Now, a planned beheading of military personnel has been foiled while question marks surround the discovery of explosive devices after a chemical plant explosion near Marseille, a city with one of the largest Muslim populations in France.
France has foiled a plan to attack the country’s military, the interior minister said, as a source close to the investigation said the suspects had been planning a beheading.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that four accused who had been planning “a terrorist act against French military facilities” were in custody of the country’s intelligence services, the DGSI.
Aged 16 to 23, and including a former member of the navy, they were arrested at dawn in different parts of the country, the minister said.
This week, we stopped terrorist attacks which could have taken place.
The news of the arrests followed a statement from French president Francois Hollande, who said attacks had been thwarted in recent days.
“This week, we stopped terrorist attacks which could have taken place,” Mr Hollande said on a visit to the coastal city of Marseille.
A source close to the investigation into the thwarted attack, who asked to remain anonymous, said the four people arrested had been planning to film the decapitation of a member of the military.
One of four suspects, who was identified as the mastermind, had been planning to travel to jihadist-controlled areas of war-torn Syria, Mr Cazeneuve said.
He said their leader was in contact with known French jihadists who are currently in prison.
Mr Cazeneuve said no link had been established between the foiled assault and two blasts on Tuesday at a petrochemical plant near Marseille.
Two blasts at a petrochemical plant in France appear to have been “criminal acts”, the country’s parliament has been told.
“There is a probe underway. The first indications show that we are dealing with a criminal act, but no motive has been established,” Mr Cazeneuve told the lower house.
Explosive devices found at plant
Officials discovered devices thought to have started the twin explosions at the plant in the small town of Berre-l’Etang near Marseille in the early hours of Tuesday, which sparked huge fires.
No one was hurt in the incident.
Two tanks full of petrol and naphtha — a flammable liquid distilled from petroleum — caught fire after the blasts and a thick cloud of black smoke was visible several kilometres away.
Prosecutors said an explosive device was found in a third tank, but had failed to trigger a major blast.
France remains on edge after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January where a trio of gunmen killed a total of 17 people starting with a massacre at the satirical magazine.
And last month, a man with suspected links to the Islamic State group spiked his boss’s severed head onto the fence of a United States-owned gas factory.
Paris tightened security around sensitive sites such as factories, calling for “maximum vigilance”.
But experts warned it was extremely difficult to defend against attacks on such sensitive sites.
“There is no such thing as zero risk,” Philippe Prudhon, a technical expert at the UIC union of chemical industries, said.
“If someone really wants to cause harm, it will be difficult to stop him or her.
“We have to realise that we have been in a fundamentally different environment for the past three years.”
How long can we keep pretending that Islam is “the religion of peace” when the results continually speak otherwise?