The scope of the terror threat facing Western Europe became increasingly clear on Monday as French police uncovered an “arsenal” of weapons in a series of pre-dawn raids on suspected Islamists, while France’s prime minister warned that “terrorism could strike again in the days or weeks to come.”
The raids in the French cities of Toulouse, Grenoble, and Jeumont and the Parisian suburbs of Saint-Denis and Bobigny came hours after French jets struck the heart of ISIS-controlled territory on Sunday in the first direct retaliation for Friday’s terror attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris.
In a Monday morning interview with radio station RTL, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that 150 searches had taken place across the country and confirmed that five people had been arrested in the city of Lyon, where, among other items, a rocket launcher was found.
“We are making use of the legal framework of the state of emergency to question people who are part of the radical jihadist movement … and all those who advocate hate of the Republic,” Valls told the station.
“I don’t want to scare people but to warn them,” Valls added. “We will keep living for a long time with the terrorist threat.
Sky News reported that at least three people had been arrested in Toulouse. France’s BFM TV reported that six people were arrested in the Alpine city of Grenoble and a number of weapons were seized. It was not immediately clear if any arrests were made in Jeumont, which is located near the border with Belgium.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC that U.K. intelligence services had stopped seven small-scale attacks on his country in the previous six months. Cameron also restated his belief that Britain should be involved in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, but admitted he would have to persuade Parliament to support such action.
Hours earlier, twelve French aircraft, including ten fighter jets, dropped 20 bombs on a command and control center, a jihadi recruitment center, munitions depot and ISIS training camp in the Syrian city of Raqqa, France’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Raqqa is the de facto capital of ISIS’ “caliphate.”
The “massive” raid was launched from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan and was carried out in coordination with U.S. forces.
A Pentagon source told Fox News, “these were French strikes but they were conducted within the coalition. We helped with [the] target list.”
On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Turkey on Sunday, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country was justified in taking action in Syria.
“It was normal to take the initiative and action and France had the legitimacy to do so. We did it already in the past, we have conducted new airstrikes in Raqqa today, Fabius said. “One cannot be attacked harshly, and you know the drama that is happening in Paris, without being present and active.”
The U.S. has conducted the vast majority of coalition attacks on ISIS territory up to this point, and has been almost solely responsible for all coalition bombings of ISIS inside Syria. However, the nature of Friday’s attacks, which devastated France and shocked the world, changed the calculus.
The airstrikes came as investigators grappled with putting together the scale of a terror plot that may involve as many as 20 people. According to The Daily Telegraph, investigators were forced to expand their investigation after a parking ticket inside a discarded Volkswagen Polo believed to have carried one group of attackers to the Bataclan concert hall Friday night was from the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, known as a hotbed of radical Islam in the Belgian capital.
Prior to Monday’s raids, police had confirmed that seven people were in custody, but the Telegraph reported that intelligence agencies feared that as many as five other possible accomplices could be at large.
Meanwhile, authorities were still hunting for 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, whom the Associated Press reported was stopped at the French border with Belgium early Saturday, hours after the attacks. Three French police officials and a top French security official told the news agency that border officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Bataclan, where 89 concert-goers were murdered by terrorists.
Three Kalashnikovs were found inside another car, a Belgian-registered Seat Leon known to have been used in the attacks, in Montreuil, an eastern Parisian suburb, another French police official said.
As many as three of the seven suicide bombers were French citizens, as was at least one of the men arrested in Brussels. One, identified by the print on a recovered finger, was 29-year-old Frenchman Ismael Mostefai, who had a record of petty crime and had been flagged in 2010 for ties to Islamic radicalism, the Paris prosecutor said. A judicial official and lawmaker Jean-Pierre Gorges confirmed his identity. A judicial official said police have also identified two other of the suicide bombers, both French nationals who’d been living in Belgium: 20-year-old Bilal Hadfi, who detonated himself outside the Stade de France; and 31-year-old Brahim Abdeslam, the brother of Salah Abdeslam, who blew himself up on the Boulevard Voltaire, near the Bataclan.
The New York Times reported that investigators believe that Mostefai had visited Syria in 2012, while some of the other assailants had been communicating with known ISIS members before the attacks. The Washington Post, citing two European intelligence officials, reported that Hadfi had recently returned to Belgium from the Middle East, but had fallen off the Belgian security service’s radar.
French officials also told The Times that U.S. security services had alerted the Paris government in September that French jihadists in Syria were planning some kind of attack. That warning prompted French airstrikes against Raqqa on Oct. 8.
Also Sunday, French officials also played down a claim by Iraqi intelligence officers that they had warned France and other countries of an imminent attack on Thursday, the day before the atrocity.
The Associated Press reported that it had obtained an Iraqi intelligence dispatch that warned that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered his followers to immediately launch gun and bomb attacks and take hostages inside the countries of the coalition fighting them in Iraq and Syria.
However, the Iraqi dispatch provided no details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets these kinds of warnings “all the time” and “every day.”
Meanwhile, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported that Turkish authorities had foiled a plot to stage an attack in Instanbul on the same day as the assault on Paris. The official said five people had been detained, including an associate of “Jihadi John”, the notorious ISIS terrorist believed to have been killed by a U.S. airstrike Thursday.
“The initial investigation shows we foiled a major attack,” the official said. The arrest came ahead of the G20 summit at the resort at Antalya, in southern Turkey.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.