By Gérard Bon
PARIS (Reuters) – Three French women arrested after a car loaded with gas cylinders was found near Notre Dame cathedral were planning to attack a Paris railway station under the direction of Islamic State, French officials said on Friday.
The Peugeot 607 was found early on Sunday laden with seven gas cylinders and three jerry cans of diesel, said police, adding that no detonators were discovered.
“A terrorist cell …has been dismantled,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference.
“The transition to action by these young women, who were directed by individuals within the ranks of Islamic State in Syria, shows that this organization wants to create female fighters.”
The car’s discovery put the French capital on high alert, reviving fears about further attacks in a country where Islamist militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.
The Interior Ministry said the intended target had been Gare de Lyon, a mainline train station in central Paris, and that all stations had been put on alert.
Reuters reporters witnessed police cordoning off two central districts after suspicious vehicles were found.
One of the three women stabbed a police officer during her arrest before being shot and wounded, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said late on Thursday. He gave their ages as 19, 23 and 39.
Scores of radicalized French nationals or others resident in France are in Syria and Iraq fighting for Islamic State. Many of those involved in recent attacks in France have either taken part in the fighting or had plans to.
France is among the countries bombing Islamic State strongholds, and the group has urged supporters to launch more attacks on French soil.
Prosecutor Molins said the youngest of the three women, whose father owned the car, had already been suspected by police of wanting to wage jihad for Islamic State in Syria.
She had written a letter pledging allegiance to the group and saying she had rallied to the call to punish France for its attacks on Muslims, Molins said.
The car’s owner was taken into custody earlier this week but later released. He had gone to police on Sunday to report that his daughter had disappeared with his car, officials said.
Four people were detained earlier in the week. Another man, the fiance of the 23-year-old woman, has also since been arrested, as has the 15-year-old daughter of one of the women, who was also radicalized, Molins said.
The man has a connection to another attack in which a police couple was killed near Paris in June, identifying him as the brother of a friend of the police killer, Larossi Abballa, Molins said.
The 23 year-old woman had also previously been engaged to Abballa, and Adel Kermiche, one of the men behind the murder of a priest in July, Molins said.
(Additional reporting by John Irish, Marine Pennetier, Matthias Blamont; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Jon Boyle and John Stonestreet)