French intelligence officers crack the Telegram account of a notorious ISIS recruiter – leading to the arrests of 10 teenagers in a month
- Rachid Kassim runs ‘public jihadist channel’ on secure app Telegram
- Frenchman, 29, suspected of ordering or inciting killing of police couple
- Also, said to be linked to murder of elderly priest in Normandy church
The encrypted messaging account of a jihadist, believed to be a ‘key instigator’ of hundreds of ISIS recruits, has been cracked by French intelligence, according to reports.
Extremist Rachid Kassim, 29, originally from a town north of Lyon, runs a ‘public jihadist channel’ on Telegram, a secure messaging app, where he offers guidance on how to carry out attacks in private chats.
He is suspected of ordering or inciting the killing of a police couple in their home in June and the murder of an elderly priest in a Normandy church in July, police sources said.
Kassim (left with the knife), 29, originally from a town north of Lyon, runs a ‘public jihadist channel’ on Telegram, a secure messaging app, where he offers guidance on how to carry out attacks in private chats.
The deciphering of the former child carer’s account, on which he has 317 followers, has led to dozens of arrests, the Daily Telegraph reported – among them, ten teenagers in a month.
French counterterrorism police arrested a 15-year old boy, said to have links to Kassim, on Wednesday following two recent thwarted attacks, marking the third such arrest of a 15-year-old in a week.
A security official said the suspect was arrested in northeastern Paris and turned 15 only a few days ago.
In a separate case, a 15-year-old was arrested last Thursday on suspicion he was about to carry out a knife attack, a judicial official said on Wednesday. Yet another 15-year-old was arrested Saturday on suspicion of planning something similar.
The two officials were not authorised to speak publicly about the cases and demanded to remain anonymous.
Propagandist Kassim has emerged as the link among at least four plots to attack France since June – including an all-female gang arrested over a car packed with explosives (pictured) left close to Notre Dame cathedral
Video captured the moment a woman was detained after the discovery of a car packed with gas canisters left in central Paris.
It was unclear if the three boys knew each other, in real life or online. However, officials are investigating if a potential link could be Kassim, who they say is a French Islamic State member tied to at least four plots to attack France since June.
The boy arrested on Wednesday has links to Kassim, according to the security official, while the judicial official said investigators were trying to verify whether the boys arrested Saturday and Thursday also had links to the jihadi.
The boy arrested on Thursday in Rueil-Malmaison, west of Paris, was handed a preliminary charge three days later of criminal terrorist association, the judicial official said.
Kassim is suspected of ordering or inciting the killing of a police couple in their home in June and the murder of elderly priest Jacques Hamel (pictured) in a Normandy church in July, police sources said.
Investigators were also trying to verify whether he had links to Adel Kermiche, one of two young men who slit the throat of a priest as he said Mass in a church in Normandy in June.
Kassim’s precise role is under investigation, but he is believed to have become a key instigator who directs recruits in encrypted forums on how and where to carry out the Islamic State group’s call for European Muslims to strike at home.
He left France in 2012, and travelled to Egypt with his wife and child.
Most recently, he was believed to be in contact with a 19-year-old in an unprecedented cell of French women who failed in their attempts to detonate a car bomb near Notre Dame Cathedral and kill police.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that Wednesday’s arrest was part of French authorities’ efforts to target people vulnerable to ‘calls to carry out killings, led by a certain number of actors in Syria.’
But he didn’t elaborate on any direct links between the boy and the IS group.
The extremist group ‘uses encrypted means to encourage increasingly young’ individuals, he said, citing the messaging application Telegram.
France is currently in ‘an exceptional level of mobilisation’ following two failed attacks in six days, he added.
The country has been in a state of emergency since the Paris attacks last November that killed 130 people.
Despite more than 10,000 security forces in the streets, there have been three attacks this year, including a Bastille Day truck attack in Nice that killed 86.
Young teenage suspects are confounding even communities where they live.
Frederique Calandra, the mayor of the Paris district where the boy in Wednesday’s arrest has lived with his family, said on BFM TV that he attended school and ‘is not known’ to a local prevention unit for fragile youths that regularly brings together representatives of police, justice and the education system.