FRANCE is reinforcing security outside churches after police accidentally foiled an apparent terror plot targeting Christian places of worship on the outskirts of Paris.
A 24-year-old Franco-Algerian IT student, Sid Ahmed Ghlam, was arrested in Villejuif on Sunday after calling police for help with a bullet wound to his leg.
Officers followed a trail of blood back to a car where they found documents that appear to show plans for an attack on two churches in the Paris suburbs, including details of the targets and the method to be used.
They reportedly also found several kalashnikov rifles and other guns, munitions, a bullet-proof vest, three mobile phones and a computer, as well as a list of all the neighbouring police stations and the response times in minutes to reach the scene of the planned attack.
The interior ministry initially described the findings as a "thwarted" terror plot, but prime minister Manuel Valls opted for the word "avoided" - as it was by chance that the discovery was made.
The suspect was on a police watchlist for potential Islamist radicalisation and had spoken on Facebook about his desire to travel to Syria. He had spent a fortnight in Turkey earlier this year, but police checks at the time suggested a lack of evidence to merit opening a full investigation into him.
While France's 45,000 churches are already included in the country's Vigipirate terrorist prevention plan, they have not until now been considered high-risk places requiring armed police guard - with the exception of popular tourist destinations such as Notre-Dame and the Sacré Coeur in Paris.
Mr Valls said: "France has an exceptional Christian heritage which should be protected but must remain accessible. Wanting to attack a church means wanting to attack a symbol of France."
An interior ministry spokesperson added: "Christian and Jewish places of worship are potential Jihadist targets, as are other places that attract large numbers of people such as tourist attractions, shopping centres, airports and sports stadiums. This latest event will be taken into account in our ongoing assessment of terror threats."
Christians took to Twitter using the hashtag #AttentatEglise to express their concern about the apparent foiled attack, denouncing a climate of "Christianophobia" in France.
A spokesman for the bishops' group Conférence des Evêques de France, Monseigneur Ribadeau-Dumas, said: "The international situation shows that Christians in many parts of the world are the target of attacks, but until now in France it was mainly the Jewish community that was under threat."
He urged worshippers to "keep attending churches, which are places of peace and welcome".