France continued to uncover and dismantle terror networks present on its soil, including several that recruited terrorists to Iraq. Following the London bombings, French officials worked closely with their British counterparts. Perceiving a number of deficiencies in their counterterrorism capabilities, France proposed legislation to remedy these deficiencies. Since March, the French Government has been drafting a white book on terrorism.
At the political and diplomatic level, France continued its engagement within the UNSC Counterterrorism Committee and the G8's Counterterrorism Action Group. On the military front, its Special Forces participated in counterterrorist operations in Afghanistan and as a part of Task Force 150, a multinational naval force that patrolled the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf to interdict the movement of suspected terrorists between Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula. In Afghanistan, French Mirage-2000 fighters flew with USAF fighters to assist American and Afghan ground troops.
France continued to develop the competencies and capabilities of TRACFIN, the Ministry of Finance's terrorism financing coordination and investigation unit. Within the European Union, France played an active role in the Clearinghouse, the EU process for designating terrorist organizations under UNSCR 1373. France has not designated HAMAS-affiliated charities, such as the French-based Comite de Bienfaisance et de Secours aux Palestiniens, arguing that they have no proven links to terrorism. France also opposed EU designation of Lebanese Hizballah as a terrorist organization, although it supported Hizballah's eventual disarmament, which it maintained would result in Hizballah's gradual integration into Lebanese politics.
France cooperated closely with the United States in pressing for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. This resolution reaffirmed a call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon; it also called for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.
French and Spanish authorities jointly made significant progress in combating Basque separatist groups, including Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA). In the first use of the EU arrest warrant for terrorism, French authorities extradited ETA suspect Unai Berrosteguieta Eguiara to Spain on February 18.
The counterterrorism section of the Paris prosecutor's office usually led the French Government's terrorism investigations. Investigative judges, who in the French system combine prosecutorial and judicial powers, concentrated on Islamic/international terrorism, Basque/ETA terrorism, and terrorism linked to Corsican separatist groups. Their mandate was extensive and included terrorist acts on French soil and acts abroad that affected French citizens. In March, then-Justice Minister Dominique Perben announced the hiring of four additional judges to investigate terrorism, along with additional support staff, bringing the number of specialized terrorism investigation judges to nine.
The government continued its policy of expulsion for non-French citizens engaged in activities that promoted hate. Interior Minister Sarkozy announced October 4 that 19 Islamic extremists had been expelled from France since the beginning of the year; 102 have been expelled since 2002. In March, the CSA, France's equivalent of the FCC, ordered the Eutelsat satellite company to cease transmitting Sahar 1, an Iranian television station, because of its anti-Semitic and hate-filled broadcasting. Following the CSA's banning of Hizballah-affiliated al-Manar satellite television, Hizballah deputies lobbied the French Government in 2005 to lift the ban. Separately, the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative court, reviewed an appeal by al-Manar to reinstate its broadcasting license.
French officials were concerned about the role of prisons in converting petty criminals into terrorists. Prisons served as a center of recruitment for the Safe Bourrada terror network that was dismantled in late September. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice in September, 358 people are imprisoned for terrorism; of these, 159 are Basque-related, 94 are Islamic extremists, and 76 are Corsica-related.
Under French law, terrorism suspects may be detained for up to 96 hours before charges are filed. The new bill proposed extending the 96-hour period an additional 48 hours, for a maximum total detention of six days. Suspects can be held for up to three and a half years in pretrial detention while the investigation against them continues. Other measures in the bill included increasing the maximum penalty for association with a terrorist enterprise from ten to 20 years in prison, and increasing the maximum penalty for terrorist enterprise organizers from 20 to 30 years in prison. The National Assembly approved the bill in late November.
On January 26, French police arrested 11 people, three of whom eventually were charged with terrorism conspiracy, in Paris' 19th arrondissement for reportedly recruiting young French residents to launch terrorist attacks in Iraq. It was the first arrest since the opening in September 2004 of an investigation by the Paris prosecutor's office into "Jihadists to Iraq." French intelligence, security, and judicial authorities consistently identified the conflict in Iraq as an attractive force for French extremists and made a number of arrests in 2005. French officials stated in November that 22 young people had left for Iraq, and at least seven were killed there, including two suicide bombers.
Djamel Beghal, the ringleader of a group arrested in 2001 on suspicion of planning to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris, was convicted March 15 for terrorist conspiracy. Beghal received the maximum ten-year sentence; his five accomplices were also found guilty and received sentences ranging from one to nine years in prison.
The last three French nationals detained at Guantanamo were transferred to French custody on March 7, following the transfer of four other nationals in 2004. France released Mustaq Ali Patel in March and Imad Kanouni in July. The other five remain in pretrial detention and could be charged with terrorist conspiracy. The former Guantanamo detainees' detention has withstood multiple appeals by defense lawyers.
On April 24, French police in Paris arrested Said al-Maghrebi, an Afghanistan training camp veteran, on suspicion of organizing potential terrorists to fight in Iraq. Four others reportedly belonging to al-Maghrebi's network were arrested in Paris and Marseilles. Two were later released.
A French court on May 16 declared five people guilty of organizing logistic support for the suicide bombers who assassinated Afghan commander Ahmed Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001. The five were sentenced to between two and nine years' imprisonment.
On May 20, a Paris court condemned Corsican nationalist Charles Pieri to ten years in prison for terrorism finance conspiracy and extortion.
French police arrested nine people in late September on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group. According to press reports, the group, reportedly led by GSPC sympathizer and convicted terrorist Safe Bourrada, was in the initial phases of planning terrorist attacks against targets in France, including the Paris Metro, Orly Airport, and the headquarters of the DST, France's internal security service. Four more suspected members of the Bourrada network were arrested in early October.
British authorities transferred Rashid Ramda to French custody on December 1. Ramda is the suspected financier of the 1995 GIA attacks in the Saint-Michel RER train station, the Musee d'Orsay RER train station, and the Maison-Blanche Metro station. Ramda had been in British custody for the last ten years; his extradition to France removed a major irritant in French-British relations.
On December 12, French police arrested approximately 25 people on charges of support for terrorism. The alleged ringleader is Ouassini Cherifi, a French-Algerian who spent time in prison for passport fraud.
The judicial investigation into the activities of six suspected members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) arrested in 2004 continued. The six suspects were held in pretrial detention and are alleged to have provided logistical support to those who committed the March 2004 Madrid bombings.
Judicial investigations continued following the 2003 arrests of German national Christian Ganczarski and Moroccan national Karim Mehdi, who are suspected of ties to al-Qaida. Both remained in pretrial detention in France.
Investigations into the "Chechen network," a loose grouping reported to have links with the Beghal network and the Frankfurt network (which attempted in 2000 to attack cultural sites in Strasbourg, including the cathedral) concluded, although a trial date for those arrested was not set. Several suspected members of the "Chechen network" were arrested in France; members of that network allegedly were interested in using chemical agents to commit terrorist attacks.