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2019-09-23 11:19:35

PARIS (AP) - Before it was ravaged by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral was the target of a bungled terrorist plot by two French women who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

They’re going on trial Monday in a special Paris court, for attempting to explode a vehicle laden with fuel-doused gas canisters in the shadow of the medieval monument in 2016. Six other people are also on trial for related terrorism charges.

The Notre Dame plot failed, and no one was hurt. But the women had been recruited by one of France’s most notorious jihadists, and prosecutors say the attempted explosion could have killed dozens of people in one of the French capital’s most touristed neighborhhoods. It came after a string of Islamic extremist attacks that deeply shook France and hardened its security posture.

Ines Madani, now 22, is considered the key player. She was just a teenager when she and Ornella Gilligmann joined a channel on social network Telegram run by French jihadist Rachid Kassim, according to court documents.

Kassim was central to French recruiting efforts for IS, prosecutors say, and was believed linked to a gruesome attack on a French priest inside his Normandy church and the killing of a French police couple at home in front of their child. Kassim moved to Syria in 2015, and during the summer of 2016 he multiplied his threats against France on social networks and released a guide detailing how followers should commit attacks. Among suggested methods: group stabbing or “filling a vehicle with gas cylinders and spraying them with fuel.”

Madani and Gilligmann tried to do just that, after sending Kassim videos pledging allegiance to IS, court documents say.

On Sept. 4, 2016, they parked a Peugeot carrying six gas canisters near Notre Dame, doused them with diesel fuel and tried to set them alight. But they failed, and fled.

Police quickly found their trail. The car belonged to Madani’s father, and the two women’s fingerprints and DNA were found on the gas canisters.

Gilligmann, already known to intelligence services for trying to reach Syria in 2014, was arrested two days later in southern France.

Madani tried to plot a new attack with help from Kassim and other women extremists. On Sept. 8, three of them took kitchen knives and attempted a rampage as police closed in.

The suspects face from 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

Madani “acknowledges responsibility” for plotting the Notre Dame attack and is expecting a conviction, her lawyer Laurent Pasquet Marinacce told The Associated Press. The lawyer said Madani was manipulated by Kassim and is “no longer radicalized at all. She has done a lot of self-examination.”

Kassim will be tried in absentia. An international arrest warrant was issued for him, but he was believed killed by a drone strike in 2017 around the Iraqi city of Mosul. U.S. authorities confirmed his death, but no proof of death was officially reported to the French courts.

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washingtontimes.com Nicolas Vaux-montagny
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