PARIS » A failed car bombing in the heart of Paris was hatched by a group of French women, including one once engaged to men who had already killed in the name of the Islamic State group, France’s top anti-terrorism prosecutor said today.
The hunt to find the women, who authorities said were guided from Syria, had been “a race against time” before they could strike again, said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, overseeing the fight against militant extremists who have killed more than 200 people in France in the past 10 months.
The Thursday night arrests linked three attacks — the failed car bomb near Notre Dame Cathedral, the killing of two police near Paris in June, and the stabbing death of a French priest during Mass in July — and marked a new phase in the Islamic State group’s efforts to sow fear in Europe.
“There’s a group that has been annihilated, but there are others,” said President Francois Hollande. “Information we were able to get from our intelligence services allowed us to act before it was too late.”
The raid left one of the women shot in the leg and two police officers stabbed, authorities said.
“In the last few days and hours, a terrorist cell was dismantled, composed of young women totally receptive to the deadly Daesh ideology,” said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.
The group was “guided by individuals in Syria,” which showed that IS “means to turn women into fighters,” Molins said.
Police raced to find the suspects after the abandoned car was discovered before dawn Sunday. The Peugeot 607 — its hazard lights flashing — contained gas canisters, a blanket with traces of fuel, and a burned-out cigarette. No detonators were found.
Among three women arrested together Thursday was Ines Madani, a 19-year-old whose father owned the Peugeot, Molina said. Her written pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State was found by police, he added.
Also arrested in the raid was a 39-year-old woman, identified as Amel S., and her oldest daughter was detained in the suburb of Clichy-Sous-Bois, authorities said. Another woman, arrested earlier in the week, also remained in custody.
One fiance, Larossi Abballa, killed two police officials in Magnanville in June and filmed the aftermath on Facebook Live before dying in a police raid, he said.
The other was Adel Kermiche, who slit the throat of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85, during morning Mass in July in the northwestern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, he added. Kermiche and another attacker were shot to death by police.
Molins didn’t say when she was engaged to either man.
He said Sarah H., who was shot in the leg during the raid, had stabbed a police officer through the open window of a car, while Ines stabbed another officer as she tried to escape.
In video shot by a neighbor, a veiled woman whose face was uncovered is seen being carried away by police as she cried out in Arabic: “God is great!”
Madani’s father flagged his daughter to police Sunday, 14 hours after his car was discovered. Since then, authorities have worked frantically to untangle the relationships among the group and thwart what they increasingly feared was another plot.
Ines Madani was one of five sisters and had already tried to leave for Syria before, Molins said.
More than a third of the nearly 700 French citizens who have reached Iraq and Syria are women, according to government figures. Officials have said for months that adolescent girls and young women are increasingly being recruited by IS in France.
Women in the Islamic State have not traditionally taken part in attacks, said Matthieu Suc, author of “Wives of Jihadis.”
They are there “to ensure the longevity of the caliphate” by having children and providing moral support, Suc told France Info radio.
But he added that “there are often young girls, who are just as radicalized as the young men, and they also want the status of martyr, and they want to act.”
Security around Paris was visibly higher Friday amid the investigation.
A bomb squad with dogs and a scanner was deployed when a gas canister with a timer but no detonator was found outside a police station Friday morning in the suburb town of La Plaine Saint Denis, just north of Paris, and one kilometer (a half-mile) from the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, a local police official said.
The possibility of car bombs increasingly worries French security officials. “We risk facing a new kind of attack: A terrorist campaign characterized by explosive devices in places where there are crowds,” Hollande told lawmakers in May.
In a sign of fraying nerves, the son of a gas delivery driver was detained briefly because he had canisters in his car. Elsewhere in Paris, police used explosives to disable an illegally parked motorcycle.
Explosive gas canisters filled with nails were the weapon used in bomb attacks by Algerian extremists on Paris in the 1990s.