French police say they have foiled an imminent attack leading up to the presidential election, with the arrest of two men in Marseille on Tuesday. Explosives and multiple weapons were found at the suspects’ flat in the southern port city.
The two Frenchmen, one born in 1987 and the other in 1993, had met while sharing a prison cell and were known to police as having converted to radical Islam, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said at a press conference.
In addition to a machine gun and two handguns, Molins added that an Islamic State group flag was also found in the apartment where the two suspects were arrested.
French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl underscored to reporters that the two were “suspected of wanting to imminently commit a violent act on the eve of the French presidential election.”
Anti-terror police and agents from France’s domestic intelligence agency conducted the arrests.
France votes Sunday in the first round of its two-stage election, with security ramped up for the ballot after a series of terrorist attacks in recent years that have made security one of the major issues of the campaign.
Candidates warned authorities, who had reportedly been looking for the two suspects for more than a week, had privately warned the main presidential candidates that there was a threat, campaign officials said.
Comments by officials indicated that former prime minister Francois Fillon, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen – three leading contenders – were among those warned of the risk.
“The main candidates were warned in the middle of last week that there was a risk and that two individuals had been identified. We received their photos. Their meetings and headquarters were given extra protection,” Macron’s spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Reuters.
Officials from Fillon’s camp and Le Pen’s National Front said they had also received word of a possible attack.
Interior Minister Fekl said 50,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers would be deployed for each stage of the election.
“Everything has been put in place to ensure the security of this event for our democracy and our Republic. The security forces have been mobilised across France to ensure the security of the French people and to ensure the presidential campaign goes smoothly,” he said.
France has been under a state of emergency, which has been extended several times, in the face of Islamist militant attacks in Paris and other parts of the country in which more than 230 people have been killed.