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© Photo: François Guillot, AFP | French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve gives a press conference on September 22, 2014


Latest update : 2014-09-23

France insisted Monday it was not spooked by a call for Muslims to kill citizens of countries fighting the Islamic State group, as Western nations scramble to prevent a surge in lone-wolf terrorism.

"France is not afraid," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said repeatedly during a televised statement, after IS circulated grisly tips for its followers on how to kill "disbelievers".

The threat posed by the slick, web-savvy group that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria has seen anti-terror laws rewritten, security boosted and raids carried out against homegrown jihadist groups from Europe to Australia.

However analysts say the rhetoric, while chilling, is nothing new.

"This is not the first time that a terrorist organisation has called for homegrown terrorism," said Erin Marie Saltman, a senior researcher at the London-based Quilliam think-tank.

She said that while al Qaeda and its affiliates have often called for individuals to carry out terrorist attacks, the tactic was however a change for the IS group which has until now sought to lure foreign fighters to join their ranks in Syria and Iraq.

This gambit has put Europe, the United States and Australia on high alert over fears that thousands who have gone to fight with IS could return and carry out attacks on home soil.

Rewriting anti-terror laws

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday discuss a resolution that would oblige nations to prosecute those who travel to fight with jihadist groups or fund them.

President Barack Obama will preside over the efforts to boost international cooperation in the fight against IS, which has seen the US and France carry out air strikes against the group.

Australia is also deploying fighter jets to join the campaign.

France has around 930 citizens or residents, including at least 60 women, either actively engaged in jihad in Iraq and Syria or planning to go there.

Last week, the French parliament approved an "anti-terrorism" bill which will usher in a travel ban on anyone suspected of planning to wage jihad.

Meanwhile the United Kingdom and Australia were drawing up tougher laws of their own. Britain, which has raised its terror risk level to "severe", is planning measures that will allow police to temporarily strip departing suspects of passports at the border.

Saltman said the call by IS for individuals to kill "disbelievers" -- singling out "the spiteful and filthy French" and those taking part in an anti-jihadist coalition -- could "shake" counter-terrorism efforts.

"It is very hard to track down these individuals... threat levels will remain high for the foreseeable future throughout Europe," said Saltman.

She highlighted the recent case in Australia where authorities last week foiled a plot by IS jihadists to carry out gruesome "demonstration executions" of random civilians.

France, which is home to Europe's largest Muslim population, said security forces were "fully mobilised" to deal with any threat at home.

"This is not the first time France has been threatened by terrorist groups who attack the values of tolerance... respect for human rights and democracy, which France has upheld through its secular history," Cazeneuve said.

"Even if there is no such thing as zero risk, today we are taking 100 percent precautions."

However Paris urged nationals abroad to exercise "utmost caution" after the threat.

Security has also been stepped up at the Brussels headquarters of the European Union after a Turkish man and woman who had recently spent time in Syria were arrested under anti-terrorism laws.

Belgian judicial officials said materials which could be used to make explosive devices were found in a raid in the Netherlands but stressed there was no proof of a plot to attack the European Commission building.

'Lone wolves'

Steven Emerson of the US-based Investigative Project on Terrorism agreed the call by IS was nothing new.

"This was an expected development, already in the making, as they had brazenly executed American citizens in an effort to provoke the United States into attacking it," he told AFP.

"I think in the end it may provoke 'lone wolves' and returning jihadi veterans to strike but they already had the motivation and impetus to do so already," he told AFP.


Date created : 2014-09-22

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