French security services have prevented an “imminent” terrorist attack in Paris and arrested a suspected Islamic extremist, according to the interior minister.
The suspect, a university student who appeared to have shot himself in the leg, was taken into custody on Sunday after an arsenal of weapons was found in his car and his lodgings.
The cache of arms included four “Kalashnikov-style” automatic weapons, bullet-proof vests, several police armbands and the detailed plans of several Parisian police stations.
“A terrorist attack was foiled on Sunday morning,” Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, said on Wednesday. “The police discovered an arsenal of weapons of war. A document was also found showing without any doubt that the individual was planning to imminently carry out an attack. The suspect was immediately taken into custody.” Cazeneuve said the man appeared to be targeting one or two churches.
Police said they were alerted at 8.50am on Sunday, when a man called the ambulance service. He was found bleeding heavily from a bullet in the leg on a pavement in the 13th arrondissement of Paris.
The IT student gave a confused account of how he came to be shot. After following a trail of blood to a vehicle parked nearby, officers found a stash of weapons, including a Sig-Sauer police pistol that had been reported stolen.
The suspect, aged 24, admitted being the owner of the car. In a search of his student room, police found more weapons, maps and other suspicious material. The man, who has not been named, admitted he was planning an attack on “one or two churches” in Villejuif, a suburb of Paris, the same day, Cazeneuve told journalists.
“The individual had been reported to police as having a plan to leave for Syria,” Cazeneuve added. He said the home of the suspect’s sister had also been searched.
The suspect is also being questioned about the killing of a fitness teacher found in the passenger seat of a car in Villejuif in southern Paris. Aurélie Châtelain, who had a five-year-old daughter, was found on Sunday morning in the passenger seat of her car with three bullets in the head. She had just finished a pilates class. Experts say DNA traces links the man with the murder.
Le Monde said the man had settled in France from Algeria in 2009 and was allowed to stay under the “regrouping of families” rules. Cazeneuve said he had been under surveillance since 2014 when he made it known he wished to go to Syria to join jihadis there. He disappeared in February this year and was found to have spent a week in Turkey. He was arrested, briefly held, and given a warning on his return, but his profile was not thought to justify further action beyond circulating a security warning.
The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, said on Wednesday: “Our country, like others, this last few weeks is facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. The terrorists are targeting France to divide us. The response must be to protect our citizens but also to unify.
France heightened surveillance of potential attackers and boosted to about 10,000 the number of troops patrolling sensitive sites after Islamist militants killed 17 people in January in attacks on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a Jewish food shop.