Two men arrested in France suspected of plotting ‘imminent’ terror attack days before the presidential election

Interior Minister Matthias Fekl says suspects were 'radicalised' and known to intelligence services 

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Two men have been arrested in France on suspicion of planning an “imminent” terror attack, five days before the country's presidential election. 

The suspects, aged 30 and 24, were picked up by the French intelligence service, the General Directorate for Internal Security, in the southern city of Marseille, police sources said. 

France's internal intelligence agency, which had been looking for the two suspects for more than a week, had warned main candidates in the election that there was a threat to their security, campaign officials said.

Comments by officials indicated that the former prime minister Francois Fillon, the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen – three leading contenders – were among those warned of a security risk.

“These two radicalised men ... intended to commit in the very short-term – by that I mean in the coming days – an attack on French soil,” the Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said.

A “definite terrorist act” had been foiled, he said, adding that the pair were known to the country's intelligence services.

Intelligence services had been hunting the pair since the end of last week for breaching weapons laws. 

Explosives were recovered during a search of a rented apartment in the port city. 

France remains under a state of emergency which has been in place since the November 2015 attacks on Paris and last year's lorry attack on the front of the seaside resort of Nice, which together claimed the lives of more than 200 people.    

The arrests came shortly after Mr Fekl announced that 50,000 police officers supported by military units will be mobilised across the 67,000 polling stations, where voters will cast their votes in the presidential election this weekend. 

“Everything has been put in place to ensure the security of this big event for our democracy and our republic. The security forces are mobilised everywhere across France to ensure the security of French people and to ensure the presidential campaign goes smoothly,” he said.

"No threat is being ruled out," Mr Fek added.

He told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that the risk of a terrorist attack was "high and permanent".

The two men – named as 24-year-old Clement Band and 30-year-old Mahiedine M – were seized in the southern port city a few moments apart from each other on Tuesday morning.

The local mayor, Lisette Narducci, said explosives had been found after a search of an apartment near Marseille's largest train station. 

“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 and security of the candidates. Their meetings and headquarters were given extra protection,” Mr Macron's spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Reuters.

Snipers and elite law enforcement units were present during conservative Mr Fillon's rally in Montpellier this weekend.  

France will go to the polls to choose its next president on 23 April and a second round will take place on 7 May between the two candidates with the most votes.

Mr Macron and Mr Fillon both offered congratulations to French police after the arrests 

Mr Macron said in a statement: “This event serves as a reminder that the terrorist threat is still very high on our territory.” 

Mr Macron recalled he has pledged to pursue military intervention in Iraq and Syria, boost intelligence services and fight against terrorism on the internet. 

Conservative candidate Mr Fillon said “democracy must not get on its knees in front of threats and intimidation from terrorists. The campaign must continue until the end.” 

Front National (FN) leader Ms Le Pen – who has campaigned on an anti-immigrant and anti-Europe platform, pointed to “a devastating multiplication of attacks and threats of attacks".

Warming to one of her usual themes, she blamed the arrests on the rise of "Islamic fundamentalism" in France – but offered no evidence to back her point.

She said that “it's time to put France back in order,” using another of her campaign mantras. 

Agencies contributed to this report