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Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - France

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Publication Date 30 April 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - France, 30 April 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49fac68fc.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

France was one of a number of major European countries combating terrorism at home and abroad, although it has not suffered a significant terrorist incident in recent years. Local Corsican separatists, Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members, and ultra-left anarchist factions have been responsible for the majority of recent incidents French authorities have classified as terrorism. The number and violence of ETA and Corsican attacks in France have continued their downward trend, but France remained a target for al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which posed a considerable threat to French interests, underscored in statements made by al-Qa'ida (AQ) senior leadership or AQIM itself, and Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) affiliates. France remained on high alert and recognized its continuing status as a target of AQIM and of other extremist groups in France and abroad.

French casualties from terrorism included one citizen killed June 8 in an attack in Algeria and two French citizens killed November 26 in the Mumbai attacks. On December 16, French police recovered fives sticks of dynamite, placed without fuses, in a major department store located in central Paris. A previously unknown group, the Afghan Revolutionary Front, claimed responsibility, but French authorities have since raised doubts about the group's authenticity and motives. Cohesion within the French counterterrorism agencies and rapid reaction to contingencies is a key strength of French counterterrorism and was a hallmark of the French approach in 2008.

On December 11, one day before the European summit in Brussels, a joint Belgian and French counterterrorism operation arrested 17 Islamic extremists with alleged ties to AQ. Fourteen suspects were arrested in Belgium and nine were arrested and held in France. French authorities arrested and extradited to Switzerland three Iranian members of the criminal extremist group Mujahedin-e-Khalq on charges of involvement in terrorist finance. In December, the French government passed legislation that allowed the Ministry of Interior to freeze terrorist assets for six-month periods that may be successively renewed in consultation with the Ministry of Justice.

French authorities detained and prosecuted a number of other people with ties to various terrorist organizations, including Corsican separatists (46 convictions), ETA members (24 convictions), Islamic terrorists (19 convictions), ultra-left anarchist factions (17 convictions), the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (two convictions), and Kurds with links to the PKK (14 convictions).

The French government undertook several counterterrorism operations with other countries including the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Two prominent examples were the May and November capture, respectively, of ETA's senior commander, Javier Lopez Pena, and ETA's military head, Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubian, alias "Txeroki." In addition to undertaking operations to arrest and prosecute terrorists, France continued programs to address radicalization and extremism through the use of social and economic incentives to reduce the susceptibility of at-risk populations. To further combat radicalization, France took judicial and administrative action against people who incited violence or hatred. French law allows for the expulsion from French territory of non-citizens who incite hatred or violence. The French government is very concerned about Islamic radicalization in the French prison system and has commissioned a study to identify key indicators of radicalization and to generate proposals on its prevention and suppression.

France's most recent CT legislation was adopted in 2006. Three articles in that legislation, preemptive identification checks on cross-border trains, access to phone and internet connection data, and access to certain administrative records, were adopted as provisional measures and extended by the National Assembly on November 20 through 2012. Preliminary detention for terrorists in France is limited to six days, although the French state may thereafter place suspects under pre-trial detention for up to four years in view of compelling evidence or when the suspect is considered to present an imminent threat. In conjunction with local government, the national government has continued to increase video surveillance in major cities. French law also allows for asset seizure, video and telephone surveillance, monitoring of public transport records, and provides other broad powers for official access to connection data held by internet cafes and to various personal data. The sentence for a convicted terrorist can be up to 30 years for leading or organizing an attack and from 10 to 20 years for assisting a terrorist organization or operation. Notably, French nationality may be revoked, leading to expulsion from French territory, if the person in question was naturalized in the preceding 15 years.

On the military front, France had over 3,000 troops actively participating in operations in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom. The French commitment included ground troops and air assets. On August 18, 10 French soldiers were killed in an ambush in the Uzbin valley. Subsequently, the prime minister announced on September 22 that France would increase its military commitments in Afghanistan, to include air mobility assets, intelligence officers, support personnel, helicopters, drones, and additional ground troops.

As a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), France continued to comply with requirements in the VWP law related to information sharing and other law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation. This cooperation was further enhanced by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

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