Reports over the weekend that French police allegedly foiled a new terror attack being planned by seven men in Strasbourg and Marseille have now developed into the shock news that one of the suspects was handed a Portuguese residency after claiming refugee status.
Hicham el Hanafi, a 26-year-Moroccan has had a residency permit giving an address in Aveiro, since 2014.
The PJ’s counter terrorism unit (UNCT) confirmed in a statement this afternoon that Hanafi had been on their radar since the summer of 2015.
International forces were “informed of the possibility that he could come to be part of a terrorist group”, added the statement.
A source close to the investigation has told journalists that Hanafi never actually came to live in Portugal. He simply “passed through, on his way to Marseille”.
SIC television news has added that the Moroccan is “the only suspect” of those rounded up in the mega-operation who appears to have links to Daesh (Islamic State).
“After his arrival in Portugal, he succeeded in getting residency after requesting refugee status at SEF (Portugal’s borders control agency)”, writes noticiasaominuto.
El Hanafi is joined by six others, ranging from the ages of 29-37, with nationalities including French, Moroccan and Afghan.
The men were rounded up by police late on Saturday night and in the early hours of Sunday morning. Indications are that authorities have thwarted a plot in the making for some time, said interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, adding that the police operation had been in place for “more than eight months”,
Investigators will now “seek to define the respective roles of the people detained and determine whether the attack frustrated was a coordinated attack designed to hit various places simultaneously”.
This latest round of arrests follows the detention in June – a few days before the Euro football championship – of five men all believed to have belonged to the same group, said Cazeneuve. Two of those arrested are now in jail.
France has faced “a terrorist threat without precedents” for the last two years, the minister added – citing the attacks in Paris of November 2015, and in Nice on Bastille Day last July.
Last weekend’s arrests bring the number of people interrogated in France this year over alleged relationships with terrorist networks to 418, Cazeneuve. added. Just since September 143 people have been arrested, 52 sent to prison and 21 placed on judicial control.
The French government recently announced that it would be extending its current State of Emergency to “at least” the presidential elections of 2017.
PHOTO: Eric Feferberg/ AFP of Bernard Cazeneuve when he withdrew French nationality from five terrorists involved in a bomb attack in Casablanca in 2003