Sunday 25 September 2016

Calls for French intelligence overhaul after probe finds failures

Published 05/07/2016 | 11:51

Floral tributes outside the Bataclan Theatre in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks
Floral tributes outside the Bataclan Theatre in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks

A French parliamentary investigation has found multiple intelligence failures before the Islamic extremist attacks that killed 147 people in Paris last year.

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French MPs have also called for the creation of a US-style counter-terrorism agency to better prevent further violence.

All the extremists involved in the 2015 attacks - on newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher market, the national stadium, Parisian cafes and the Bataclan concert hall - had been previously flagged to authorities, said conservative politician Georges Fenech, who headed the investigation commission.

Some attackers had past convictions, or were under judicial surveillance in France or in Belgium when they attacked.

"We could have avoided the attack of the Bataclan if there had not been these failures," Mr Fenech said.

Intelligence authorities questioned in the parliamentary inquiry acknowledged failures, Mr Fenech said. He blamed communications failures abroad plus a multi-layered, cumbersome intelligence apparatus, saying France is trying to fight terrorism with "lead boots".

Mr Fenech and Socialist Sebastien Pietrasanta, who presented the report, called for a national counter-terrorism agency like that created in the US after the September 11 attacks - one of 40 proposals that came out of their investigation.

The commission visited the US National Counter-terrorism Centre and is convinced something similar is needed. Mr Fenech evoked Britain's MI5 as another example of what is missing in France.

The other proposals range from ways to deal more effectively with victims to streamlining intelligence gathering and forbidding those convicted of terror-linked crimes from a reduction of their sentences.

Critical voices were immediately raised, notably from Stephane Gicquel, a leading spokesman for victims.

"We don't see how these proposals will be put into place, who will decide, in what time period," Mr Gicquel said after the news conference outlining the report, to be published July 12. He said he fears they will become but "vain wishes when today it is time to act and announce a very clear plan of action".

The commission recommends only a follow-up information mission.

Mr Pietrasanta noted that the attack that killed 49 people in Orlando, Florida, shows that "there is no zero risk", and said France remains under threat even if it overhauls its intelligence services.

The parliamentary report is based on six months of interviews with nearly 200 people and visits to Turkey, Greece, Belgium and Europol police agency headquarters in The Hague, as well as to the United States and other destinations.

It was aimed at studying what happened before, after and during the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market, which killed 17 people, and the November attacks on the Bataclan, stadium and cafes, which killed 130.

The inquiry also found failures in European security coordination and communication.

"Europe is not up to the task" of fighting terrorism, Mr Pietrasanta said.

The MPs said security measures put in place after the attacks were ineffective, and accused Belgian authorities of being slow to stop the only surviving member of the Paris attack team, Salah Abdeslam, now in isolation in a French prison.

AP

Press Association

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