Hollande Urges France To "Embrace Islam" Hours Before "Radicalized Fanatics" Are Arrested In Latest Terror Plot

Call it just another instance of bad timing for the most unpopular president in French history.

Earlier today, the French interior ministry announced that three women arrested in connection with a car loaded with gas cylinders found near Notre Dame cathedral had been planning an attack on a Paris railway station. "An alert has been issued to all stations but they had planned to attack the Gare de Lyon on Thursday," a ministry official said Friday.

A car carrying gas canisters was discovered near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

According to NBC, the French official said the youngest of the three women, a 19-year-old whose father was the owner of the car, had written a letter pledging allegiance to ISIS. Sunday's discovery of the Peugeot 607 laden with seven gas cylinders triggered a terrorism investigation and revived fears about further attacks in a country where Islamist militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.

Furthermore, one of the women stabbed a police officer during her arrest before being shot and wounded, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said late on Thursday. "These three women — aged 39, 23 and 19 — had been radicalized, were fanatics and were in all likelihood preparing an imminent, violent act," Cazeneuve said in a televised statement.

Ironically, just hours before this crackdown against "radicalized Islamists", deeply unpopular French president Francois Hollande delivered a speech on Thursday, saying that Islam can co-exist with secularism, warning in a speech seen as preparing the ground for a re-election bid that the anti-terror fight should not undermine French values. While Hollande, who has no chance of reelection, has yet to announce whether he will run for a second term next year, he is widely expected to be a candidate. In a passionate plea for tolerance, he defended the country's Muslim minority following a vitriolic debate on the banning of the Islamic burkini swimsuit.

Cited by AFP, Hollande said that 'Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practice of Islam in France, provided it respects the law." Secularism was not a 'state religion' to be used against other religions, he said in the speech in Paris, denouncing the 'stigmatisation of Muslims'. However, mayors in around 30 towns this summer cited France's century-old secular laws in banning head-to-toe swimwear on their beaches, unleashing a furore. Several of the towns later revoked the bans after France's highest administrative court ruled they were a 'serious' violation of basic freedoms.

Hollande rejected calls by conservatives, including his arch-rival, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, for the state to ban the burkini, saying it would be 'unconstitutional'. Asking rhetorically whether Islam could co-exist with secularism, like Christianity and Judaism, he insisted: 'My answer is yes, certainly.' 'The question the Republic must answer is: Is it really ready to embrace a religion that it did not expect to be this big over a century ago? There too, my answer is yes, certainly.'

In a wide-ranging address, one of the most unpopular presidents in French history "cast himself as a guardian of democracy, resisting calls for more repressive laws following a string of jihadist attacks that have left over 230 people dead in France since January 2015."

Meanwhile, in a seemingly incongruous escalation with Hollande's message of "embracing" Islam, the government has responded to the threat by deploying thousands of troops to patrol the streets as previously reported, enacting a raft of anti-terror laws and repeatedly extending a state of emergency - measures deemed insufficient by the conservative opposition.

In fact, some could argue that whether intentional or not, what the French socialist leader has done is convert France from a democratic country into a full-blown police state.

That said, French citizens umhappy with Hollande have a familiar alternative: Sarkozy, who recently announced a bid to try to win back the presidency in next year's election, has called for suspected radicals to be interned in camps. The former president responded late Thursday to Hollande's comments, saying that 'democracy can't be weak. We are France, we cannot accept impotence.'

Sarkozy, putting himself forward as a strong contrast to Hollande, added; 'I want to be president of a Republic which will protect the French people and which will defend France.' Hollande warned that France could not sacrifice its core values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

'The declaration of human rights is not some old scroll to be framed and hung in reception rooms,' he said. 'Did the Patriot Act and Guantanamo protect Americans from the (terrorist) threat? No,' he said, declaring: 'Democracy is our weapon.'

Needless to say, Hollande is a political cadaver: polls predict a drubbing for the 62-year-old Socialist if he throws his hat in the ring again after five years marked by stubbornly high unemployment and only timid attempts at reform. A poll published Tuesday showed he would only get between 11 and 15 percent in the first round of voting.

As such, the only real question is what Marine le Pen, leader of the National Front, and frontrunner in polling for the 2017 presidential election, thinks. Actually, what she thinks is well-known: get France out of the the Euro, kick out immigrants, and assure one more step is taken to the inevitable dissolution of the European Union.