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Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 - France

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 31 July 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 - France, 31 July 2012, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
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.

Overview: The United States and France maintained strong counterterrorism cooperation and were partners in fostering closer regional and international cooperation. U.S. government agencies worked closely with their French counterparts on the exchange and evaluation of terrorist-related information. France's security apparatus and legislation affords broad powers to security services for the prevention of terrorist attacks, which helps mitigate the risk of home-grown terrorist plots from developing and advancing. In 2011, two major trends tied to potential terrorist activities heightened concerns for security officials. First, government attention to the problem of individual radicalization through internet sites has led to increased surveillance of extremist websites. Second, the government is concerned about the use of pre-paid credit cards that are transferred across borders by criminal and terrorist organizations and not declared on customs forms.

Instability resulting from the Arab Spring heightened concerns in France about the ability of terrorists to operate and recruit in North Africa and the Middle East. Nevertheless, France was encouraged by a more open dialogue with the governments in North Africa about al-Qa'ida (AQ) and terrorism.

Legislation and Law Enforcement: No new legislation pertaining to terrorism was passed in 2011. However, on June 1, France implemented new police custody regulations that allow the presence of a lawyer during the interrogation of a suspect. This reform resulted from rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and the French Supreme Court, which called the presence of a lawyer at such a time an "imperative necessity." This regulation applies with retroactive effect, although the time period for challenging the validity of a custodial statement on these grounds is limited. In December, a court struck down the custodial statement of a terrorism defendant that was challenged on the basis of the new regulation. Because the judicial investigation was largely derived from the tainted statements, the future of the prosecution was at risk at year's end.

France worked diligently to maintain strong border security, and implemented national and European Union (EU) border security legislation. On November 15, the European Parliament implemented a new law that stipulates member states are not required to use body scanners at airports, but if they do, the scanners must comply with EU standards. For example, security scanners cannot store, copy, print, or retrieve images, and any unauthorized access and use of the image is prohibited. Also, for privacy reasons, the person monitoring the scanner's image should be in a separate location to prevent any link between the person being scanned and the image. France began testing body scanners in two of its airports in 2010, but had not implemented their use across the country by the end of 2011.

Several major internal threats prompted France to increase its security threat level to red (the highest) in 2011. In January, the Ministry of the Interior declared that "French interests were targeted by Islamic radicals." Several threats were made against the Eiffel Tower, including a phone threat on March 23 that reportedly resulted in the evacuation of 2,000 to 3,000 people.

According to French media and government sources, 40 people were arrested for having active links to Islamist terrorists in the first nine months of 2011. Fifteen of the 40 were specifically arrested for collecting funds for terrorist organizations, and for suspicious travel to and from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The remaining 25, including seven arrested in a May sweep, were suspected of receiving logistical support, materials, clothes, sophisticated equipment, and fake papers from terrorist networks. Also in 2011, 32 alleged members of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) were arrested in France. Among these were three "major leaders of the PKK in France" who were arrested on June 4 and held on suspicion of extortion to fund terrorist activity. In the first 10 months of 2011, 15 suspected members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) were also arrested. As of October, 144 ETA members were in prison, of which 75 were awaiting trial at year's end.

High profile prosecutions included:

  • On April 5, Pedro Esquisabel Urtuzaga, the former head of the military arm of ETA, was sentenced to 17 years in prison by a jury in Paris. It was also ruled that he must remain on French territory for the remainder of his life.

  • On December 5, Paris' Special Court sentenced Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal) to life in prison, with a minimum of 18 years before parole eligibility, for his involvement in four lethal bombings in Paris in 1982 and 1983.

Countering Terrorist Finance: In addition to being a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), France assumed one of two rotating memberships on the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, a FATF-Style Regional Body. However, following the mutual evaluation of France by the FATF in February, the French government dramatically expanded its counterterrorist finance (CTF) efforts within the Ministry of Finance (MOF). The staff of the MOF's autonomous Financial Intelligence Unit, TracFin, was expanded from 16 to 100 people, and a newly created counterterrorism team will serve as the focal point for all CTF bodies within the government.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Regional and International Cooperation: France is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum. France actively engaged with the United Nations' (UN) Counterterrorism Committee (CTC). In April, the Council of Europe hosted the UN CTC's Special Meeting with International, Regional, and Sub-regional Organizations on the Prevention of Terrorism in Strasbourg, France. France also played a strong role on the UN Security Council Resolution 1267/1989 Sanctions Committee. France participated in the drafting of the European Council's Counterterrorism Strategy action plan. The French government undertook joint counterterrorism operations with other countries including the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain. France also played an active role in efforts to support counterterrorism capacity building in other countries both bilaterally and within the EU. On October 6, France and Turkey signed a bilateral security accord that will permit the two countries to coordinate their efforts and reinforce their counterterrorism cooperation.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: The French government does not have any programs in place that specifically counter violent extremism, however, it considers its integration programs for all French citizens and residents a major tool in countering radicalization and extremism. Many of these integration programs target disenfranchised communities and new immigrants. For example, the Ministry of Education works to instill "universal values" in all French pupils, regardless of ethnic origin or country of birth. Ministry regulations mandate that all French public schools teach civic education, and that all students attend school until age 16. The government also offered adult vocational training for older immigrants and minorities that never matriculated in the French school system.

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