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France: Paris Vows To Crack Down On Terrorism

On 7 July, suicide bombers killed 52 people in attacks on the London transportation system. Since then, France’s government has been working to prevent similar terrorist attacks on French soil. Security analysts say terrorism poses a significant threat in France. But organizations defending individual liberties claim proposed antiterror measures violate the rights of citizens.

Prague, 31 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- On 5 August, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a broad array of security measures, including the deportation of any immigrants who preach hatred or violence.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it planned to spend some $300 million a year on research to prevent terrorism on railways and other infrastructure. It said it will buy closed-circuit-television cameras, ground-penetrating radars, and other security devices.

Jean-Pierre Dubois, the president of the Paris-based Human Rights League, says French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is using the recent terrorist attacks to justify similar measures in France. Dubois told RFE/RL that the proposed measures would restrict people's liberties.

"Surveys show that the majority of the French population supports the government's firm stance against terrorism," Dubois said. "The question is how to act. Obviously, many people in France haven't realized what is happening. Since 11 September 2001, not only in France, the terrorist threat has been used to increasingly restrain freedoms."

In comments published this week in French media, Sarkozy promised to install new surveillance systems as soon as this year that would be capable of recording Paris railway stations and airports. He said surveillance would also be tightened on international flights to collect data on people traveling to what he called "sensitive destinations," including Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan.
"To put it briefly, all this goes toward a sort of generalized tracking of the whole population. "This is what worries us the most." - Dubois

Sarkozy called for a greater access to phone records, and said France will introduce biometric visas in 35 consulates to combat illegal immigration. Biometric data use biological characteristics to identify individuals.

Dubois says the approach is too invasive. "To put it briefly, all this goes toward a sort of generalized tracking of the whole population," he said. "This is what worries us the most."

Other proposals include plans to enact procedures allowing radical Islamists to be stripped of their French citizenship and the expulsion of people suspected of "promoting radical Islamic discourse."

Maurice Botbol, the editor in chief of the French publication “Intelligence Online,” told RFE/RL that the technical measures announced by the interior minister are both “normal and necessary.” But he stresses that only human intelligence will prevent terrorist attacks.

"France has developed human intelligence, keeping a close eye on terrorist groups and their activities," Botbol said. "This is much more efficient than technical measures. The strength of French intelligence is its capacity to infiltrate [terrorist] networks, watch them, and prevent a certain number of terrorist acts."

In March, a French court convicted six French-Algerians of conspiring to plot a bombing attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Despite such successes, Botbol said that the terrorist threat in France, which has Europe's largest Muslim minority, remains serious.

"The latest terrorists attacks in London and Madrid last year clearly show that there is a global terrorist threat, which [also] concerns Europe," he said. "Over the past weeks, a number of signs have shown a convergence between Al-Qaeda and radical Algerian Islamic groups. This represents a threat, notably for France."

As early as 1994, four members of Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group (GIA) hijacked an airplane with the intention of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The following year, the GIA was linked to a series of bombings in France that killed eight people and wounded more than 200 others.