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France debates tough new anti-terror bill: what do the experts think?

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2014-09-16

France's parliament on Monday began to debate a new anti-terrorism bill that aims to stop would-be jihadists from travelling to foreign battlefields. FRANCE 24 spoke with two security experts who said a new law was “absolutely necessary”.

Some French politicians fear the bill is too soft. Others believe the proposed law, which would allow the authorities to confiscate passports from suspected jihadists and close websites, is an attack on civil liberties.

But Gilles de Kerchove, EU counter-terrorism coordinator, and Jean-Charles Brisard, a French international consultant and expert on terrorism, say the bill would align French legislation with other European countries - and in particular the UK - and is vital to French domestic security.

Kerchove told FRANCE 24 the proposed law gives a "good balance between the demands of internal security and respect for individual liberties", while Brisard called it "absolutely necessary given the increasing flow of jihadist recruits leaving of the country since 2012."

The number of fighters who are currently abroad in training camps, or actually fighting in Iraq or Syria, has risen from an estimated 550 at the beginning of 2014 to 946 now, according to the French interior ministry.

“Confiscating passports to prevent radicalisation”

One of the key elements of the bill would give the authorities the power to confiscate the passports of suspected potential jihadists and so prevent them from leaving France.

The bill broadens existing legislation to target individuals if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that person is travelling abroad to join a militant organisation, a change from current anti-terror laws which target “groups”.

According to the interior ministry, this would apply to 230 people currently resident in France.

“A similar law has proved its worth in the UK,” said Briscard, who added that the measure would prevent radicalisation of individuals abroad, who might return to the country both battle-hardened and motivated to carry on the fight back home.

De Kerchove added that the law would “help judicial proceedings” in the case of a suspect’s return from abroad, making it “easier for the police to detain that person for questioning and add him or her to a Europe-wide database of suspected jihadists”.

“This could have been done in the case of Mehdi Nemmouche [a French-Algerian who allegedly killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels],” he added.

Targeting lone wolves

According to Briscard, article 5 of the new bill, which creates a new offence of “individual terrorist enterprise”, is “simply indispensable”.

Briscard pointed out that similar rules already exist in Germany and the UK, which has some of the toughest anti-terror legislation in the world.

Under British laws, individual terrorism suspects can be held for 14 days without charge, while all terror training at home or abroad is punishable by sentences of up to ten years.

“It closes a legal loophole,” he said. “Under current legislation, only criminal association is recognised [as a prerequisite for arrest under terrorism laws].”

De Kerchove explained that there was a growing tendency for would-be jihadists to operate on their own, inspired by extremist websites which offer not only the motivation to fight, but also the techniques for carrying out attacks. The new law would be “much more efficient”, he said.

Taking the fight to the Internet

The bill would also allow the authorities to block websites that defend or encourage terrorism, while obliging Internet service providers (ISPs) and website hosts to remove any offending content.

Some 160 such sites were identified in 2013. The law would give their owners 24 hours to remove illegal content or see their sites blocked.

Publishing content that encourages terrorism would be punishable with up to seven years in jail.

It is one of the more sensitive points of the bill, which has been criticised by some as an attack on freedom of speech.

“The French government is already cooperating with the United States, the UK and ISPs to identify this kind of content,” said Brisard. “We are now finally catching up [in terms of legislation].”

Formulating a universal counter-terrorism strategy

Brisard insisted that France could do much more to fight the threat of terrorism, and that the country should devise a broader anti-terrorist strategy in order to come up to speed with European partners such as the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

“Such a plan would involve identifying people who are at risk of being radicalised before it actually happens,” he said, adding that France needed to implement programmes working in other countries “that involve cooperation between the police, education and social work” to nip terrorism in the bud.

(This article is translated from French – click here to read the original story)

Date created : 2014-09-16

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