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French Police Arrest 8 In Attempt To Create Explosion In Paris


French police say they've dismantled the terrorist cell behind a failed attack in Paris last weekend. A prosecutor says the group filled a car with gas canisters, then three of them - all women - parked it on a busy street and tried to set it on fire. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, this is the first time France has confronted the prospect of female terrorists.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said it was a group of three women he called a terrorist commando unit that had tried to blow up the car.


FRANCOIS MOLINS: (Through interpreter) The fact that these young women tried to carry out an attack that was being guided by ISIS operatives in Syria shows the terrorist organization intends to make women fighters, too. The vision of women as simply wives and mothers in the group is now clearly passe.

BEARDSLEY: Molins said the women had tried to set fire to the car by leaving a lit cigarette next to a gasoline-soaked blanket in the trunk with the gas canisters. He said after the car failed to catch fire, the woman had frantically tried to think of other attacks they could carry out instead. He said security services had been racing against the clock since Sunday trying to find the women.


BEARDSLEY: Six other people connected with the case have been arrested along with the three women who were detained Thursday evening in a town about 40 minutes south of Paris. Their ages - 19, 23 and 39. The 19-year-old plunged a knife into the shoulder of a policeman before she was shot in the leg. She and the 23-year-old were known to police because both had tried to get to Syria. Jean Pierre Pochon is a former director of French intelligence.

JEAN PIERRE POCHON: (Through interpreter) These are very young and very radicalized women. They're amateurs, but their hatred and determination are total, and they are determined to go to the very end even if they don't know what they're doing.

MOLINS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Prosecutor Molins described an interconnected world of French terrorists. The 23-year-old suspect arrested yesterday had been engaged twice - first to the murderer of a police couple in June and later to the man who slit the throat of a French priest in July.

President Francois Hollande said France could not let its guard down for one second. One terrorist group has been eliminated he said, but there are others out there. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.