An Islamist extremist was arrested in France on Wednesday charged with murdering a fitness instructor and planning to carry out a terror attack on at least one Paris church later the same day.
The 24-year-old French-Algerian’s plans were exposed purely by chance on Sunday morning after he called an ambulance over a bullet injury to his leg.
Hotel-Dieu hospital, where Sid Ahmed Ghlam is said to be being treated (GETTY)
“Documents were also found and they prove, without any ambiguity, that the individual was preparing an imminent attack, in all probability, against one or two churches,” said Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, at a press conference on Wednesday.
He said that Ghlam was responsible for the murder of Aurélie Châtelain a 33-year-old fitness instructor, who was found in her car on Sunday morning, having been shot three times in the shoulder.
Mother to a five-year-old daughter, she was in Paris to attend a pilates class, and was described by her family in Caudry, 50 miles south of Lille, as “a ray of sunshine”.
DNA at the scene connected Ghlam to Miss Châtelain, said Mr Cazeneuve. In the man’s apartment, in southeastern Paris, more weapons were found as well as material linked to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists.
Media gather outside of home Sid Ahmed Ghlam (EPA)
But on Wednesday morning, before Mr Cazeneuve spoke, Ghlam’s sister was arrested in the town of Saint-Dizier, near Nancy. She was living in a tough district of the town, and French media said she too was a “known radical”.
Ghlam’s girlfriend has also been held for questioning. Ghlam had moved to France in 2009, to join his family. A computer science student, he was placed on the “S” list – meaning “Sûreté de l’État”, state security – in 2014, said Mr Cazeneuve.
“The individual had been marked by the police as someone susceptible of leaving for Syria,” said Mr Cazeneuve. Ghlam was known to have travelled to Turkey and returned, “without giving cause for us to open a judicial inquiry.”
He was arrested in Paris’s 13th arrondissement, in the centre of the city not far from Notre Dame, after he called an ambulance. He was waiting outside for first aid when police arrived at the scene.
France has been on high alert since the January 7-9 Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, which left 20 people dead, including the three gunmen.
In that case, two of the Islamists had been flagged to French intelligence – and the third had been recently released from prison after serving a sentence involving his ties to Islamic extremists. But surveillance was called off months before the attack.
The mail box belonging to Sid Ahmed Ghlam (GETTY)