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France Says It Foiled 'Imminent' Armed Attack on Church, Suspect in Custody

French police have arrested an Islamist extremist in Paris as he was allegedly planning an imminent attack on one or more churches.
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/ Source: NBC News

PARIS — A 24-year-old arrested in Paris with an arsenal of weapons had plans to attack a French church and expressed interest in ISIS, French officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, an Algerian national, was arrested Sunday in southeastern Paris and also has been implicated in a Frenchwoman's fatal shooting.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said the plot was uncovered when police responding to a 911 call from a person saying they'd been injured in an armed robbery found a man with a thigh wound and a car with traces of blood on the seats.

The "suspicious" individual — who initially refused to open the car door — was taken to the hospital under armed guard. A search of the car turned up a Kalashnikov, pistol, revolver, bulletproof vests and documents with what appeared to be potential targets, Molins added.

He said at least three Kalashnikovs, more bulletproof vests and documents with language relating to ISIS and al Qaeda written on them were found in the suspect's home. Investigators believe the man was in contact with individuals in Syria and "had been intending to specifically target a church," Molins added.

Officials were able to use GPS data to determine that the suspect had been in the neighborhood where a Frenchwoman had been fatally shot on Sunday. Bullets from one of the guns recovered in the suspect's car matched that shooting, he added.

Molins said the suspect had been "researching churches" less than 1.2 miles from where the woman was shot.

France is still on edge after deadly attacks in January on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish food store left 17 people dead.

Molins added that that someone in the suspect's "entourage" had been "placed on watch" at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning (midnight ET) but said he "wouldn't like to say anything more on this."

French President Francois Hollande lamented Wednesday that his country was “once again threatened by terrorists.”

“We are still confronted by acts that can strike the heart of French society,” he said in Paris.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said earlier that "detailed documents" seized had "established beyond doubt that the individual was planning an imminent attack, probably on one or two churches."

Cazeneuve said the suspect was flagged as a risk by security officials last year and earlier this year but there was no specific reason to open a judicial investigation against him.

— Alexander Smith

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.