French police investigating a group of Islamic extremists now believe they are dealing with an “extremely dangerous terrorist cell” following the discovery of a cache of bomb-making equipment.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins also said yesterday that two men involved in a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store which triggered the investigation may still be at large.
Molins said 12 suspects who have been held in custody since Saturday would be detained without charge beyond the usual four-day maximum to at least a fifth day.
The French criminal code allows for suspects to be held without charge for up to six days in cases of a “serious risk of an imminent terrorist attack” in France or abroad.
“We are clearly and objectively facing an extremely dangerous terrorist cell,” Molins said, defending the extraordinary detentions as necessary to “avoid the risk of a terrorist attack in France.”
He said “components useful for bomb-making” had been found overnight during police searches of buildings in the eastern Paris suburb of Torcy, where two of the suspects were detained on Saturday.
Among the components found were bags of potassium nitrate, sulfur, pressure cookers and headlight bulbs, “all products or instruments useful in the making of what we call improvised explosives,” Molins said.
A shotgun and handgun were also found, he said. Searches were ongoing yesterday.
The 12 alleged members of the cell, all aged under 30 and thought to have been born or brought up in France, are being held on suspicion of involvement in a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles last month and of planning other anti-Semitic attacks.
A list of Jewish organizations in the Paris area was found at one of the addresses where the bomb-making components were discovered.
The suspected leader of those detained, 33-year-old Jeremie Louis-Sidney, was shot dead on Saturday after he opened fire on officers seeking to arrest him in a dawn raid at his home in Strasbourg.
Police were led to Louis-Sidney — a convicted drug dealer, who converted to Islam in prison — following forensic examination of the pin of a grenade thrown into the kosher grocery on Sept. 19.
Traces found on the pin suggested he had handled the grenade, but Molins said prosecutors were not sure it was him who threw it and said two men believed to have been directly involved in the attack may still be at large.
“It has not yet been established that the two individuals who carried out the attack by throwing the grenade into the grocery store have been apprehended,” he said.
Yesterday’s decision to continue to hold the suspects without charge beyond four days marks only the second time such an extension has been granted since France’s current pre-charge detention system was adopted in 2006.
Sources said the suspects were all refusing to cooperate during interrogation by anti-terrorism officers.
“In the three weeks leading up to the arrests, physical and telephone surveillance of the members of the group showed that they were all very active, mobile and extremely prudent about their movements,” a source said.