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France - the 'terrorism capital of Europe'

Ben McPartland · 28 May 2014, 12:33

Published: 28 May 2014 12:33 GMT+02:00

Three people were killed, there were 63 terrorist attacks and 225 arrests for terror-related offences.

Those are the figures taken from the 2013 end-of-year report into terrorist activity in France, that easily make it the country in Europe most affected by extremist attacks.

In all seven people were killed across Europe last year - three Kurdish women in Paris, a British soldier in London and two members of a far-right extremist group in Athens.

Europol’s report, released on Wednesday, revealed the “continuing terrorist threat posed to the security of citizens and interests of the European Union”.

"Be it right or left-wing extremism, separatism or religiously-motivated acts, we need to step up our work to respond to the threat of radicalization. Radicalization leading to violent terrorism is a gradual process and does not happen overnight. In times when populist movements and xenophobic winds are sweeping across Europe, it is more important than ever to keep this in mind." says Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

But that threat appears to be most prominent in France.

The 63 attacks related to terrorism in France were out of a total of 152 across Europe, the UK was ranked second with 35 incidents and Spain third with 33 (see map below for other countries).

Those attacks in France included:

(This map shows the number of attacks and the number of arrests for terrorist offences in each country)

The 225 arrests in France represented almost half of the total of 525 arrests across Europe in 2013 and put the country far ahead of Spain on 99 and the UK on 77.

Those arrests included:

  • In March 2013, weapons and explosive material found at the homes of three suspects arrested in Marignane, who reportedly sought to emulate Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah.
  • In October 2013, three individuals linked to the group responsible for a 2012 grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store in Paris were arrested. Material said to be for intended terrorist attacks was also found.
  • In February 2013 17 Kurds were arrested on suspicion of raising funds for the PKK.

Over half of the arrests in France were for religious inspired terrorism as the map below demonstrates, many of which were related to financing and recruitment.

But Europol’s report revealed that most of the terrorist attacks in France and across Europe as a whole were committed by separatists, notably Corsicans.

Although the number of attacks by Corsican separatists decreased in 2013 compared to the previous year, “the two most active groups, the Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse (FLNC, National Liberation Front of Corsica) and the FLNC du 22 Octobre (FLNC of October 22nd), continue to demonstrate the capability and intent to carry out terrorist acts.”

Attacks by separatists in France included:

  • December 2013, after five of its members were arrested, the group carried out two simultaneous rocket attacks against gendarmerie offices in Bastia and Ajaccio.
  • In December 2013, two attacks were claimed by the Armée Révolutionnaire Bretonne (ARB, Breton Revolutionary Army).
  • 2013 also witnessed the emergence of a new French separatist terrorist group, the Front de Libération Nationale de Provence (FLNP, National Liberation Front of Provence). The group was responsible for three attacks against real estate agencies and a bank in the Var department, in which there were no casualties.

France has been on a higher alert for terrorist attacks ever since it sent troops into Mali to combat Islamist militants in the north of the country.

That decision to send its army into the African country was met with threats by extremist groups to carry out terrorist attacks on French soil as well as calls to assassinate President François Hollande.

Story continues below…

French authorities are also increasingly concerned about the terror threat posed by French citizens returning from fighting a holy war in Syria.

Their concerns appeared to be justified with reports that police had thwarted a terror plot on the French Riviera earlier this year.

But the threat posed by jihadists returning from Syria is not confined to France say Europol chiefs.

"There is a growing threat from EU citizens who, having travelled to conflict zones to engage in terrorist activities, return to the European Union with a willingness to commit acts of terrorism," says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. 

"This was especially evident in the case of Syria in 2013.

"This phenomenon adds a new dimension to the existing threat situation in the European Union, since it provides new groups within Member States with both terrorist intentions and capabilities, which may result in terrorist attacks with unexpected targets and timings."

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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