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World

Prime Minister Says France Faces 'Unprecedented Terrorist Threat'

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The French government said today there have been five attempted terror attacks since the January killings at a satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket. The French Prime Minister said the plots were prevented by the country's security forces. A sixth incident was only averted after a gunman's misfire. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The latest attack was to have taken place Sunday morning at a church in the town of Villejuif, just south of Paris. But the Paris prosecutor says after killing a woman nearby, the suspect aborted his plans after accidentally shooting himself in the leg. When he called an ambulance, his suspicious behavior and a trail of blood led police to his car which was crammed with weapons, bulletproof vests and plans for a series of attacks on churches. A search of the suspect's apartment turned up more weapons, information about al-Qaida and ISIS and telecom equipment showing he was in communication with someone, the prosecutor says, probably in Syria who had told him to target a church. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France must remain on high alert.

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PRIME MINISTER MANUEL VALLS: (Through interpreter) Our country is facing an unprecedented terrorist threat, both in its form and intensity.

BEARDSLEY: The suspect, Sid Ahmed Ghlam, is a 24-year-old Algerian IT student who came to Paris in 2010 to join the rest of his family. He had no criminal record, but had been flagged by authorities after expressing a desire on his Facebook page to travel to Syria and join jihadis. Valls said the protracted conflict in Syria is a huge threat to Europe.

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VALLS: (Through interpreter) We think there are three to 5,000 European citizens in Syria today, and this number could reach 10,000 by the end of the year.

BEARDSLEY: Since January, French synagogues and mosques have been guarded by soldiers. But officials say it would be impossible to secure the country's nearly 50,000 churches. Andre Vingt-Trois is the archbishop of Paris.

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ANDRE VINGT-TROIS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We refuse to bow to a concept of the world where we are enemies of each other pitted against each other," said Vingt-Trois. Police don't believe Ghlam acted alone and are looking for his accomplices. The French government says the Paris region will remain on high terror alert through the summer. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.