French police detain five men in Christmas market 'terrorist plot' probe

French police detain five men in Christmas market 'terrorist plot' probe
Nancy Christmas Market. Credit: Ville de Nancy

Five young men were arrested on Friday in Eastern France, on suspicion of plotting a terror attack.

Aged between 20 and 23, the men were apprehended in Nancy, Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy and Toul following an investigation into a criminal terrorist gang initiated by the National Antiterrorist Prosecutor’s Office, which had received reports of "potentially worrying elements".

Sources close to the case confirmed that investigators are looking into reports that the men had scouted a Christmas market, which local media had reported. Two of the suspects, both students from Toul and Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, were monitored during a visit to Strasbourg’s Christmas market earlier in December.

Further concerns were raised following aggressive social media posts made by one of the students about Christmas markets. On 9 December, investigators raided the residences of the two students, uncovering a video filmed in Strasbourg’s Christmas market where a voice can be heard suggesting to open fire.

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The probe seeks to ascertain the credibility of this potential plot, with the source neither affirming or denying reports suggesting the suspects had scouted a Christmas market.

It is a stark reminder of a terror attack at Strasbourg’s Christmas market in 2018, in which five people were killed and many others injured. Unnamed sources suggest the detainees might have connections to Islamist circles.

The investigation comes as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called for "extreme vigilance" over the Christmas and Epiphany holiday period, highlighting the "very high level of terrorist threat" continuously present. As of Saturday evening, all five suspects remain in custody.

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