Country Report on Terrorism 2013 - Chapter 2 - France

Overview: The United States and France maintained a strong counterterrorism relationship in 2013. U.S. government agencies worked closely with their French counterparts for the exchange and evaluation of terrorist-related information, and partnered in fostering closer regional and international cooperation. France’s security apparatus and legislation afford broad powers to security services to prevent terrorist attacks. The Government of France was concerned about the possibility of attacks against its interests inside and outside of Syria, Mali, and across the Sahel. France recognizes the potential threat posed by its nationals traveling abroad to join terrorist organizations or to fight in Syria. Early in 2013 President Hollande raised the “Vigipirate” level (France’s national security alert system) to “red” alert, the second highest level. This decision came after France intervened in Mali. Patrols of public transportation were strengthened country-wide.

The return of French nationals who joined groups fighting in the civil war in Syria is an increasing threat. There were reportedly 184 French nationals fighting among violent Islamist extremist groups in Syria in 2013; 14 were killed in combat there.

2013 Terrorist Incidents: In 2013, there were attacks related to terrorism:

  • On January 9, in Western Paris, Ömer Güney, a 30-year-old ethnic Kurd, killed three Kurdish women activists. On January 21, the French police arrested Güney, and have since held him in solitary confinement.
  • On May 26, 22-year-old Frenchman Alexandre Daussy stabbed and critically injured French soldier Cedric Cordiez at the La Défense shopping district in Paris.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In December 2012, the French government adopted counterterrorism legislation that allows authorities to prosecute French citizens who return to France after committing an act of terrorism abroad, or after training in terrorist camps (notably in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region) with the intention of returning to France to commit terrorist attacks. France passed legislation expanding the scope of the government’s domestic surveillance powers in December, which has raised data privacy concerns by some groups. This legislation, while expanding the scope of the government’s powers to collect data from electronic communications on national security grounds to include counter-espionage activities, is not expected to significantly change France’s already advanced law enforcement capacity or its cooperation with the United States.

France’s main counterterrorism apparatus is its Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), which was founded in 2008 and is tasked with counter-espionage, counterterrorism, and the surveillance of potential threats on French territory.

France works diligently to maintain strong border security and implements national and EU border security legislation. Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports as well as the Marseille-Provence airport use the Automated Fast Track Crossing at External Borders (PARAFE) system, which, combined with biometric authentication technology, simplifies border crossing and results in an average crossing time of 20 seconds.

France has a system of non-jury courts for terrorism trials and a broad definition of what is considered a terrorist offense – the so-called “association of wrongdoers” offense – which allows it to cast a wide net and imprison a broad range of suspects. Under French law, foreigners can be deported if they are believed to pose a serious threat to public order.

The following high profile arrests took place in 2013:

  •  In January, France deported three foreign Imams. Interior Minister Valls justified the action as an attempt to deport any foreign born preacher who stressed “…the need to fight against France.”
  • On February 5, French police arrested four suspected Islamist militants near Paris as part of an investigation into the recruitment of al-Qa’ida fighters from France to the Sahel region. Three of the men are Franco-Congolese and one man is Malian. The investigation revealed that the men were planning to conduct sabotage in France.
  • In late February, French police arrested three Chechens suspected of terrorist activity near Paris. The suspects were identified as Ali Dokaev, Elsy Issakov, and Mourad Idrissov.
  • On March 13, French police arrested an additional three people in Marignane on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks after they found a number of weapons and explosives in a police raid on a house. The police said the three men were in their 20s, and they wished to emulate the March 2012 terrorist attacks carried out by 23-year-old Mohamed Merah.
  • On June 24, French police arrested six members of an Islamist terrorist cell who were planning attacks on well-known French figures. The group included four French nationals, one from Benin, and another from Comoros. On June 25, French police arrested a 26-year-old webmaster known as Romain for his role as administrator of the Ansaw al Haqq website. Romain translates magazines published by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
  • On July 16, French police arrested Kristian “Varg” Vikernes, a 40-year-old Norwegian neo-nazi who sympathizes with Anders Breivik, the man who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
  • On August 7, French police arrested a 23-year-old French soldier who planned to open fire on the Minguettes mosque in Venissieux, a Lyon suburb, on August 15, at the end of Ramadan. The French soldier reportedly has ties to the “radical far-right”.
  • On September 28, French police arrested a 21-year-old woman in Paris for her alleged connection to AQAP.
  • On October 12, France filed charges against Naamen Meziche, age 43, a French-Algerian man who it suspects has links to the terrorist cell that planned the 9/11 attacks. Pakistani authorities deported Meziche to France, where he was arrested upon arrival. He had been arrested in Pakistan in May 2012, along with three other French fighters, all of whom were expelled to France separately.
  • On November 16, the DCRI arrested four men aged 22 to 35 on suspicion of sending fighters to Syria.
  • Throughout the year, France monitored French citizens wanting to go to Syria to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Asad. Several arrests were made.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: France is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and belongs to or is an observer in the following FATF-style regional bodies: Cooperating and Supporting Nation to the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, Observer to the Financial Action Task Force of South America, Observer to the Asia Pacific Group, Observer to the Eurasia Group, Observer to the Middle East and North Africa Financial Task Force. The FATF also designated France as a member of the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (Moneyval), for a period of two years beginning in the fall of 2012. France is a member of the Egmont Group and member of the Anti-Money Laundering Liaison Committee of the Franc Zone.

On January 8, a French court delivered an eight-year jail term to a 53-year-old Turkish-Dutch man named Irfan Demirtas, for helping fund the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Demirtas was also permanently banned from France. Eight others arrested in the same investigation were given jail sentences of up to three years. The group as a whole is said to have sent approximately $390,000 to the border region of Afghanistan-Pakistan.

The French financial intelligence unit Tracfin said that regular "1901 law" non-profit organizations are not obliged to file suspicious transactions reports and are not regulated and monitored. According to the French monetary and financial code only monetary and financial professions, government administrative structures and related non-profit associations are regulated and monitored. This presents a risk factor for those seeking to use non-profit organizations to fund illicit activities.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 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’s Jean Paul Laborde was sworn in as Executive Director of the UN Counter-terrorism Committee (UNCTC) on July 22. Through the OSCE, France engaged in new measures to counter transnational threats, including terrorism. The French government undertook joint counterterrorism operations with countries including the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain. France also plays an active role in efforts to support counterterrorism capacity building in other countries both bilaterally and within the EU.

Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: The Government of France considers its integration programs for all French citizens and residents a major tool in countering radicalization to violence and violent extremism in France. Many of these 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 French government also offers adult vocational training for older immigrants and minorities who never attended French schools. The Ministry of the Interior plays a significant role in countering radicalization by increased police presence in disenfranchised areas, neighborhoods, and regions with high criminality and juvenile delinquency rates.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) implements rehabilitation and reintegration programs for former criminals. According to the MoJ, as of January 1, 2013, there were 164 Muslim chaplains employed by the French penitentiary system, which the government is hoping will help limit the development of violent extremism in the prison system.