USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
In 2009, France found itself grappling with an Islamist threat that reflected the nation’s changing demographics. Several public announcements by al-Qa’ida (AQ) and other groups reiterated that French interests remained key targets of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In response to President Sarkozy’s June comments calling for the banning of the burka in France, AQIM spelled out their intentions to attack France stating, “We will do everything in our power to avenge our sisters’ and our daughters’ honor, by striking France and its interests, wherever they may be.”
Traditionally, local Corsican separatists, Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members, and ultra-left anarchist factions have been responsible for the majority of attacks and arrests classified as terrorism in France. The number and violence of ETA and Corsican attacks in France have continued their downward trend, however. In 2009, the French intelligence services recognized an elevated threat from an “international European network of radical Islamists with a strong presence in France.” In response to that threat, the French Ministry of interior created the National Police Intervention Force (FIPN) on December 1. The FIPN brings together the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) elements of multiple French Police units to form a 500-man SWAT team. France remained on high alert and recognized that it is a target of AQIM and of other extremist groups in France and abroad.
France and Spain’s concerted efforts against ETA operatives and leadership highlighted the benefits of close regional cooperation and demonstrated the effectiveness of the French counterterrorism program:
Although no terrorist attacks took place on French soil during 2009, French interests were targeted and attacked abroad:
The French government undertook several counterterrorism operations with other countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. 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. Of particular note, the French government went to great efforts to train police personnel to be aware of the signs of radicalization. The French government is very concerned about Islamist radicalization in the French prison system. In 2008, the governments of France, Austria, and Germany jointly commissioned a study to identify key indicators of radicalization in the prison system and offered suggestions on how to prevent or minimize radicalization within the penal system. In 2009, the document was provided to all 27 members of the European Union and was requested by, and provided to nine non-EU states. Within the EU, France hosted a conference on November 13 to help other EU-countries understand the benefits of a counterterrorism coordination center.
Preliminary detention for suspected terrorists in France is six days. The state may thereafter place suspects under pre-trial detention for up to four years when the evidence is compelling or when the suspect is considered to present an imminent threat. In conjunction with local government, the national government continued to increase video surveillance in major cities. French law allows for seizing of assets, 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. Notably, French nationality may be revoked, leading to expulsion from French territory, if the person in question was naturalized in the preceding 15 years.
France is actively engaged with the UN Security Council Counterterrorism Committee, the G8’s Counterterrorism Action Group, the UNSCR 1267 Committee and the European Council’s Antiterrorism Strategy action plan. France is an original member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and continued to participate actively. France remained a member of, and contributor to, both the Proliferation and Container Security Initiatives. France continued to upgrade passports to the biometric standard. On May 15 and December 1, in support of U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, France accepted two former detainees and resettled them in France.
On the military front, France currently has more than 3,000 troops participating in operations in Afghanistan. The French commitment included ground troops and air assets.