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France: What now?

Bernd Riegert, Paris / dcJanuary 13, 2015

Days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, France is mulling the consequences. Tougher laws? More tolerance? Bernd Riegert reports from Paris.

Frankreich verstärkte Sicherheitsmaßnahmen
Image: Getty Images/D. Kitwood

"And now?" was the question asked not just by the newspaper "Le Parisien" two days after the historic anti-terror demonstration in Paris. In other media outlets, in discussions at schools, churches, or at their local bistro, the people of France are asking themselves what consequences should be drawn following last week's attacks by Islamic terrorists. President Francois Hollande again spoke of national unity, and condemned any attacks on Muslim or Jewish sites. "The threat of terror is still present. We have to take it seriously," he said. "France will protect all of its citizens, regardless of their beliefs."

The many heavily-armed soldiers and police officers stationed at key points in the French capital are one noticeable change: The government has deployed 10,000 soldiers across the country. "It's the first time that so many soldiers have been deployed on our own territory," said Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

All Jewish institutions in France are being guarded by an additional 4,700 police officers. Whether the additional security personnel would be able to prevent another attack is seen as doubtful by some, including an elderly woman who stopped to visit the makeshift memorial outside the "Charlie Hebdo" office. "There were police officers stationed inside and outside the office last week, but did that do anything?" she asked.

Anti-terror legislation to be fast-tracked

The French government has already approved stricter security legislation and committed to fast-tracking the introduction of new measures. At the end of 2014, the French parliament approved a new anti-terror law that is meant to come into force at the end of this year.

Frankreich verstärkte Sicherheitsmaßnahmen 12.01.2015
France has deployed thousands of extra police and troops to protect the Jewish communityImage: Getty Images/D. Kitwood

The measures include greater isolation of terror suspects and Islamists in prisons. One of last week's attackers, Cherif Kouachi, had already served a sentence for recruiting jihadist fighters. During his time in prison he made contact with Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked the Jewish supermarket in Paris, killing five people.

The cabinet approved measures to expand the powers of French intelligence officers. The legal problems in intercepting traveling jihadists also need to be dealt with quickly, said Prime Minister Valls. The Charlie Hebdo attackers, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, reportedly traveled to Yemen both separately and together between 2009 and 2011 to make contact with Al Qaeda fighters and receive weapons training.

Further terrorist helpers?

French authorities have put the number of "foreign fighters," who have left the country to fight for terrorist groups in Iraq or Syria at around 1,400. Most of them are radicalized men from the Islamist scene, according to officials at the French Interior Ministry. The police are working on the assumption that there is a terrorist cell with up to six members in France who may have helped last week's attackers.

A propaganda video showing one of the attackers was posted on the Internet following his death during the storming of the Jewish supermarket by a special forces team. According to media reports, the attackers had fixed GoPro cameras to themselves in order to film and broadcast their brutal acts.

The Kouachi brothers did not switch their camera on during the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but Coulibaly filmed the bloodbath he caused in the Jewish HyperCacher market. The newspaper "Le Figaro" quoted an anonymous police source who said that the footage is being analyzed.

France to collect passenger data

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced plans to pursue greater collection and evaluation of airline passenger data at the European level. Until now, the European parliament has blocked such an EU-wide measure due to concerns about privacy protection.

Frankreich Innenminister Bernard Cazeneuve
French Interior Minister Cazeneuve announced new security measuresImage: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

The United States began collecting passenger data following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Kouachi brothers were on a US terror watch list and would not have been permitted to enter the country. The French authorities were also aware of the brothers, but had stopped monitoring them a few months ago.

Does France need a Patriot's Act?

Bernard Squarchini, the former head of France's domestic intelligence agency, has called for better cooperation of the nation's intelligence services. He said that the introduction of passenger data collection is absolutely necessary. "In addition, we need improved framework legislation that incorporates everything. At the moment, everything is split up and a lot gets lost," he told "Le Figaro."

The conservative opposition is demanding an equivalent of the US Patriot's Act for France. This law gave US intelligence services broad powers to collect data and fight terrorists. The newspaper "Le Monde" commented that the temptation to create a Patriot's Act for France is big. Prime Minister Valls is against such a move, however. "I'm in favor of better legislation, but I reject laws that put everything and everyone under general suspicion," he said.