Two French citizens and a Moroccan went on trial in Paris on Monday charged with planning attacks after their cyber network was successfully infiltrated by a French intelligence agent posing as a jihadist.
The three, two of whom are aged 41 and the third 30, have been charged with joining a terror group with a view to carrying out attacks. If convicted they face up to 30 years in jail.
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 agent will give video evidence on Friday under the codename of 282-SI.
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.
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.
The trial is due to continue until February 19.
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.
Related: Online: The Other Side of Terrorism