Paris: Two French citizens and a Moroccan on Wednesday received heavy prison terms for an attack plot that was foiled after an intelligence agent posing as a jihadist infiltrated their cyber network.
The criminal court sentenced Hicham Makran to 22 years in jail, his childhood friend Yassine Bousseria to 24 years and the Moroccan Hicham El-Hanafi to the maximum 30 years in prison.
It said what Hicham El-Hanafi, 41, had done was “of extreme seriousness, concerning in particular preparations for a mass terror attack”.
In justifying the tough sentences, it also described as “very serious” the involvement of Bousseria, 41, and Hanafi, 30.
The three were tried on charges of joining a terror group with a view to carrying out attacks.
The agent from France’s DGSI domestic intelligence service, using the codename Ulysse, had infiltrated communication networks of Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in a ruse that led to the arrest of the three.
The trap laid by the agent is reminiscent of some episodes in the internationally successful French TV drama “The Bureau”, which fictionalises the work of the DGSI’s sister service on foreign intelligence, the DGSE.
The case began in 2016. After intelligence indicating the IS group was seeking to obtain weapons for a “violent action” on French soil, the DGSI agent managed to penetrate an encrypted Telegram messaging loop and make contact with an IS “emir” in Syria, nicknamed Sayyaf.
Sayyaf said the jihadists needed munitions including four Kalashnikovs, which Ulysse said he could supply.
In June 2016, Sayyaf sent Ulysse 13,300 euros ($16,000) in cash which was deposited on a grave in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.
Readying for action
With this money, Ulysse then told Sayyaf that he had bought weapons and hid them in a forest north of Paris. The surroundings were then equipped with surveillance cameras.
French intelligence then received information that the two French citizens, who had been around the Turkish-Syrian border, had come home and were readying for action.
They were arrested and found to have a USB key encrypted with the coordinates of the arms cache.
Another message was then received identifying a Moroccan who was then arrested. By analysing his telephone, investigators found that he had tried twice to uncover the arms cache.
France remains on high alert for jihadist attacks after a string of terror strikes from 2015 and a spate of isolated attacks at the end of last year.