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Three women charged over Notre Dame Cathedral gas canister plot

A French police officer patrols in Paris (AP)

Three women accused of being part of an ISIS cell that was planning imminent attacks in France will remain in custody after a judge confirmed preliminary charges of terrorism, Paris prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The three women were charged with criminal terrorist association linked to the discovery of an abandoned car filled with gas cylinders near Notre Dame Cathedral, and to another pending attack, the prosecutors’ office said.

The women identified as Ines M, 19, Sarah H, 23, and Amel S, 39, were arrested last Thursday south-east of Paris in a police operation during which two of them were accused of attacking police officers with knives. Ines M and Sarah H were also charged with attempted terrorist murders of public officers and Amel S with being an accomplice to those attempts, the office said.

In the same case, a 23-year-old man, identified as Mohamed Lamine A, was charged with not reporting a pending terrorist crime to authorities. Mohamed Lamine A, who was engaged to Sarah H, was arrested on the same day north-west of Paris.

Separately, a 15-year-old male teenager, arrested in Paris two days later, was charged with criminal terrorist association. Officials alleged that the boy planned to carry out a knife attack in a public place last weekend.

All five remain in custody, the prosecutor’s office said.

Last week, a woman identified as Ornella G, 29, was the first to be charged with terrorism and placed in custody in the gas cylinder case. She was arrested in southern France and the Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, has said her DNA was found in the car left near Notre Dame. She is suspected of being part of the same female cell, authorities said.

Before the recent alleged attack plots, intelligence services had been watching Ornella G and Ines M for security reasons and for their suspected wishes to go to Syria, Molins said. Inside Ines’ purse, investigators found a handwritten pledge of allegiance to ISIS group leaders, telling French people “I’m attacking you in your lands to mark your minds and terrorise you,” he said.

Sarah H was known to intelligence agents as someone “particularly linked to jihadi circles” and her boyfriend Mohamed Lamine A was considered by authorities as “particularly radicalised,” Molins said.

Sarah H was previously engaged to a man who murdered a police couple in June in Magnanville, outside Paris, and to a priest killer in a Normandy church in July, Molins said. Both men were killed by police responding to the attacks.

France has been in a state of emergency since attacks in Paris killed 130 people 10 months ago. Since then, 86 people were killed in July when a truck plowed into a crowd of revellers in the Riviera city of Nice on the Bastille Day and Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered as he celebrated Mass at his church in the diocese of Rouen.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that “every day attacks are foiled” and that nearly 15,000 people in France are being tracked because they are suspected of being in the process of radicalisation.