Two women who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and tried to blow up a car near Notre Dame cathedral in 2016 were convicted Monday of terrorism charges and sentenced to 30 and 25 years in prison after apologizing for their actions.
The two, and two other women who also received long sentences Monday, were avid participants in a Telegram channel run by a Frenchman who was a notorious Islamic State recruiter. The unraveling of the plot drew new attention to the role of women in the Islamic State extremist group, especially among its European supporters.
Both Inès Madani and Ornella Gilligmann admitted taking part in the failed attack, but they traded blame on who was the driving force behind the attempted bombing.
Madani, now 22, pretended to be a returning Islamic State fighter who was enamored with Ornella Gilligmann because, she said, she was bored. The two exchanged 4,000 messages on social networks, primarily focused on seducing the other. She was sentenced to 30 years. The prosecutor said only her youth at the time prevented him from seeking a life term.
Gilligmann, who received the 25-year sentence, contended she tried to sabotage the plot.
The recruiter, Rachid Kassim, had released a guide detailing how followers should commit attacks, including group stabbings or "filling a vehicle with gas cylinders and spraying them with fuel."
Madani and Gilligmann sent him videos pledging allegiance to IS, court documents say, and on Sept. 4, 2016, they filled a Peugeot belonging to Madani's father with six gas canisters and doused them with diesel fuel. But that's where the preparations seemingly ended.
Finding themselves lost at 2 a.m. in Paris, they abandoned the vehicle at a bar across the Seine River from Notre Dame and fled. Prosecutor say the attempted explosion — long before this year's fire at the cathedral — could have killed dozens in a neighborhood beloved by Parisians and tourists alike.
Police found the women's DNA and fingerprints on the vehicle. Gilligmann, who had already been flagged for trying to leave for Syria, was arrested on a highway two days later with her husband and three children.
Two other women, Amel Sakaou and Sarah Hervouet, got involved when Madani was looking for a hideout. The three women didn't know each other beforehand but plotted a new attack in Sakaou's suburban apartment, which was under police surveillance.
Armed with kitchen knives provided by Sakaou, they attacked a plainclothes policeman parked outside and were detained.
Madani acknowledged her role Monday and apologized to the court, "to the people I dragged down in my fall, and to the people I could have harmed."
She said she had changed "from the worst of behavior."
In tears, Gilligmann apologized to her husband and children as well as victims of terrorism.
"I've spent three years rebuilding myself and trying to move forward," she said. "I'm truly sorry. I'm ashamed."
Sakaou refused to appear during the three-week trial. Hervouet, who was once betrothed to Kassim without ever meeting him, said she accepted her conviction. Both were sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Kassim was convicted in absentia with a life sentence. He is believed to have been killed in a drone strike in 2017 near the Iraqi city of Mosul.
He was also considered a crucial inspiration for a gruesome killing of a French priest inside his Normandy church and the slaying of a French police couple at home in front of their child.