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‘Facing threat that is more difficult to spot’: French PM presents new bill to combat Islamist terrorism

‘Facing threat that is more difficult to spot’: French PM presents new bill to combat Islamist terrorism
France’s government plans to give its security services “more means” to fight terrorism and make law enforcement “more efficient” at doing so, PM Jean Castex said, promising that “fundamental” rights will still be respected.

“The Republic intends to give itself all the means to fight Islamist terrorism step by step,” Castex said on Wednesday, adding that stronger measures were necessary because the terrorist threat has become increasingly difficult to detect through traditional law enforcement tools.

Under the new plans, security services would be given extensive powers when it comes to monitoring various internet activities.

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“The attack in Rambouillet, the assassination of the teacher or a heinous terrorist attack in Nice in November were… acts by isolated individuals, increasingly young and mostly unknown to the intelligence services,” the PM said, referring to the latest high-profile terrorist acts, including last week’s murder of a policewoman in a Paris suburb.

All the perpetrators in these cases were radicalized without necessarily having any direct links to established terrorist networks, Castex said, adding that surveillance should increase particularly on social networks.

Faced with this threat that is more difficult to spot, the State and Justice must equip themselves with strengthened means to detect, monitor and act [on that threat.]

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin echoed those concerns, saying recent attacks could not be detected through regular means and police “continue to be blind [while] monitoring… telephone lines that no one uses anymore.”

Both the murderer of teacher Samuel Paty and those who attacked a church in Nice communicated through encrypted messaging or through Facebook, he said.

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The government’s proposed bill would allow security services to collect computer data for two months instead of the one month currently allowed. Authorities could keep the data for up to five years. It is about “applying to the Internet what we apply to the telephone,” Darmanin said.

The new bill would amend the existing 2015 intelligence law and the 2017 law on internal security. Castex insisted it would not infringe upon “fundamental” human rights and is only intended to help make security services “more efficient” while respecting “fundamental legal principles.”

He also maintained that the bill, which was announced less than a week after the incident in Rambouillet, was the result of months of work and was not a hasty reaction to yet another terrorist attack. A final vote is expected on the bill “before the end of July.”

The announcement comes just a day after the government threatened to take punitive measures against former high-ranking military personnel who signed an open letter declaring the country is headed toward "civil war." The retired generals urged President Emmanuel Macron to save the nation from Islamism and the “suburban hordes” of immigrants.

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The appeal was signed by around 20 retired generals along with “a hundred senior officers and more than a thousand soldiers,” the conservative ‘Valeurs Actuelles’ news magazine said. 

French Defense Minister Florence Parly accused the ex-generals of calling for “insurrection” and creating a “climate of division.”

The debate over Islamist radicalism was reignited in France following a series of high-profile attacks in late 2020 and mostly recently the murder of a policewoman by a Tunisian national, who was living in France and was radicalized by watching jihadist videos.

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