France Thwarts Planned ISIS Attack in Paris Area

General view of Paris at dusk with the Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides prominent on June 10, 2008 in Paris, France. Tourism to the city has rebounded after terror attacks. Mike Hewitt/Getty

Suspected extremists arrested by French authorities in two cities were planning attacks in the Paris area and were directed by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) from the "Iraqi-Syrian region," the Paris public prosecutor, Francois Molins, said Friday.

Molins also told reporters at a press conference police had seized automatic weapons in raids on properties in the eastern city of Strasbourg and the southern port city of Marseille overnight on November 19, during which they arrested seven suspects.

Authorities released two of the suspects but are holding five others on suspicion of planning to attack the French capital on December 1. The suspects—four French nationals and one Moroccan—appeared before counter-terror judges on Friday, Molins said.

The raids reportedly included "elements seized in Strasbourg" such as written documents "glorifying death and martyrdom" and demonstrating a "clear allegiance" to ISIS.

"The Strasbourg commando unit, but also the individual arrested in Marseille, were in possession of common instructions...sent by a coordinator from the Iraqi-Syrian region via encrypted applications," added Molins.

While it was clear the cell had planned to attack a series of possible targets, Molins said authorities could not "determine the exact one" they had planned to strike. The cell had researched "a dozen sites" online, such as the Disneyland Paris theme park, the Christmas market on the famous Champs-Elysées and the Paris police headquarters.

The news reinforces what European security officials have long feared, and most likely already know: ISIS is still making attempts to direct attacks on French and European soil, more than a year after the deadly events in Paris last November. In that assault, ISIS suicide bombers and gunmen killed 130 people in different locations across the city.

France has remained under a state of emergency since the attack, with President Francois Hollande extending it by six months in July following ISIS-inspired attacks in the French Riviera city of Nice and the northern village of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

This is despite the group suffering severe losses in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria. Several attacks inspired by ISIS have taken place across the continent since the Paris attacks, the most notable being the Nice truck attack, in which Tunisian national Mohamed Bouhlel killed 86 people as they watched Bastille Day fireworks.

Speaking to Newsweek after the arrests, Jean-Charles Brisard, head of the French Center for Analysis of Terrorism, said the plot demonstrated that, despite a tougher government response to the threat, extremists are still active in France and planning to strike the country once more.

"These arrests are a clear sign of an acceleration of the plotting and increased threats on France, with levels of arrests never met in the past (418 since the beginning of the year)," he wrote in an email.

"It suggests that networks in France, whether locally inspired or directed from abroad are planning [attacks], despite the ISIS setbacks on the ground and despite stronger measures against terrorism. It means their capacity has not been affected, nor their intention to target Western countries."

A spokesperson for the Paris prosecutor's office was not immediately available for comment