What has France actually done to fight terrorism?

Ben McPartland
Ben McPartland - [email protected]
What has France actually done to fight terrorism?
Photo: AFP

The French government has come in for stinging criticism for not doing more to fight terrorism after the latest massacre in Nice brought the death toll from jihadist attacks since January 2015 to 234.


Are the French public and opposition parties right to lay blame at the feet of the government and call for ministers to resign in the light of the latest terrorist attack in Nice?

France has certainly taken action, but has it been the right measures? And have they been effective?

Here's a look at what the government has done to battle terrorism.

Soldiers on the streets

In response to the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish Kosher store, the government decided to deploy some 10,000 soldiers to the streets to guard sensitive sites like synagogues and other places of worship as well as tourist sites and shopping centres.

The main aim was to reassure the public and to send a message to France’s Jewish community the government was protecting them.

The operation was due to come to an end in the coming months, but the Nice attack will see soldiers redeployed to monitor festivals during the summer months. 

Call up reservists

Immediately after the Nice truck attack the government said it would call up thousands of reservists to boost security, including French citizens with no military experience and former soldiers. The volunteers will boost the ranks of police, soldiers, gendarmes whose capabilities and resources have been stretched to the limit. The government wants to be able to call on 40,000 reservists by 2018 so it can deploy 1,000 a day.

State of emergency

Perhaps the standout measure introduced in response to terrorism was to declare a state of emergency in the hours after the Paris attacks in November 2015. This move, which was backed by opposition parties, enabled authorities to ban protests for a short while as well as carry out raids on homes and put suspects under house arrest, without requiring the necessary judicial oversight. The emergency powers were only set to last 12 days, but have since been extended several times and will be again perhaps until 2017.

While the state of emergency is popular among right wing politicians, those on the left have criticised it for being ineffectual and counterproductive. Has it prevented any real terror plots or just alienated more young French men of North African origin who have been placed under suspicion and seen their homes raided?

ALSO: No wonder French losing faith in Hollande's war on terror

Police allowed to carry arms

Police are on the frontline in the fight against terrorism in France and have been specifically targeted in certain attacks. As a result of the threat they face, the government has changed the rules to allow officers to carry their guns at all times, even when off duty. The measure was only meant to last during the state of emergency but the interior minister said it will now be in place permanently.

Another measure taken by the government is to loosen the rules around when police can open fire on suspects by protecting them from legal action when they do pull the trigger.

More security on public transport

(Photo: Rory Mulholland)

Transport is considered to be a target for terrorists and as a result several measures have been introduced including allowing transport police to search passengers and their bags if suspicion is aroused.

Metal detector gates were also installed on the platforms at Gare du Nord for trains to Amsterdam, Brussels and Cologne. However this measure was widely dismissed as “security theatre", given that the same security measure was not introduced at the other end of the line.

More spies...

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that 2,680 people were to be recruited to work in intelligence and surveillance with some €425 million invested in new equipment. 

New spying powers

In the light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks the French government introduced a bill that granted the state sweeping powers to spy on its citizens. While rights groups blasted the bill, it won support from all political parties.

The new law, described as "French Patriot Act" allowed authorities to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a "terrorist" inquiry without prior authorisation from a judge, and forces Internet service providers and phone companies to give up data upon request.

Intelligence services will have the right to place cameras and recording devices in private dwellings and install "keylogger" devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time.

Amnesty International has also protested against the legislation, warning it will take France "a step closer to a surveillance state".

Reinforce values secularism in schools

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks the French government was concerned at reports of pupils refusing to accept a minute’s silence for the victims so unveiled a wide-ranging plan to reinforce the country’s secular values in schools.

The aim was essentially to encourage France's pupils from immigrant backgrounds to understand and adhere to the values of the French Republic. A National Secularism Day was announced, but as The Local reported it largely fell flat.

Cooperation with other countries

One of the major criticisms following the November terror attacks was the lack of cooperation between Belgium and French intelligence services. It emerged that many of the jihadists who took part in the attacks were known to either one of the country’s security services but information was not transferred between the two. Following the attack the two countries presented a united front and vowed to boost cooperation. 

(PM Manuel Valls with Belgian conterpart Charles Michel. AFP)

Legal powers increased

France has taken various measures to toughen its laws to boost the fight against terrorism.

It is now possible prevent suspected jihadists from leaving the country and a new offence was created to target so-called “lone wolves” who radicalize on their own separate to any network.

It was also made easier to target French nationals who have been involved in terrorist groups abroad. According to Le Monde newspaper the government says that 300 cases have been opened up targeting 1,200 French nationals.

Those convicted of terror offences can now be sentenced to life imprisonment without any possibility of early release.

And police are now able to detain anyone whose behaviour they suspect is related to terrorist activities for four hours without the need for a lawyer.

Closing jihadist websites

One of the battles against terrorism has been fought online. In November 2014 the government passed a law enabling it close down websites promoting the jihadist cause without needing permission of a judge. Within months it announced it had blocked five sites accused of having links to Isis or for promoting terrorism. By April this year some 60 sites had been blocked.

The banning order was given to Internet service providers, who had 24 hours to take "all necessary measures to block the listing of these addresses" under the new rules.

Jail for checking jihadist websites

A new law that has been contested and must be given the green light by France’s top constitutional court, before it comes into power will allow judges to sentence those who consult jihadist websites to two years in prison and a €30,000 fine.

Fighting radicalization

France has introduced various measures aimed at tackling radicalization either before it occurs or after.

It launched its own “Stop Jihadism” campaign following the January 2015 terror attacks which was aimed at battling the powerful propaganda by Islamic state. In a powerful video it warned those tempted to join Jihad that they would “die alone far from home”.

Other campaigns included videos with the families of those who had been radicalized and left for Syria.

An emergency number was also created to allow friends and family to signal to authorities any signs that someone had been radicalized. It has since received thousands of calls.

In the autumn France will open up its first national centre for deradicalization. 

Tackling radicalization in prisons

One major front in the battle against terrorism has taken place in prisons.

Many of those who have launched attacks in France were found to have been petty criminals in the past and may have fallen under the influence of radical Islam while in prison. France currently has several prisons that are trialing keeping radicalized inmates in separate wings to protect vulnerable prisoners.

The inmates are kept in their own cell and they must undergo a kind of de-radicalization course with psychologists and repentant former jihadists. Around 100 out of some 1,400 radicalized prisoners are subject to the trial. However while the plan sounds sensible, many have criticised it for helping jihadist networks grow.

The number of Muslim clerics working in prisons to deal with militants was also increased.

Surveillance in prisons

The government intends to increase the number of “prison spies” to keep closer tabs on jihadists. There are currently 72 but this year that number should rise to 185. A recent parliamentary inquiry into the November attacks criticised the lack of resources for intelligence services working in prisons.

(Fresnes prison, where radicalized inmates are kept separate. AFP)

Mosques closed, preachers expelled

Since 2012 the government says it has expelled 80 “preachers of hate” and closed 10 mosques or Muslim prayer rooms that were considered to be under the influence of extremists.

Border controls reintroduced

After the November attacks President François Hollande took to the air waves to announce “France’s borders are closed”.

That wasn’t quite what he meant but France has restored border checks and as a result millions of people have been stopped and checked, mostly at random, whereas before November they were free to cross borders under the Schengen agreement.

Bombing raids in Syria and Iraq

The French government has also taken the war on terrorism to the Middle East, where it has launched bombing raids on Isis targets in both Syria and Iraq. It is also believed to have carried out missions in Libya.

After the Nice truck attack Hollande announced missions would be increased. However many may argue that the bombing missions have only encouraged Isis to call for attacks on France soil.

Terrorists NOT stripped of French nationality

The one measure the right were staunchly in favour of had to be scrapped because Hollande did not have enough support among his own party. Most experts however believe it would have had little impact on the war on terror.

With the government under pressure to do more to fight terrorism, we can expect more measures to be taken in the months to come.

Do you judge these measures to have been enough? What more can be done?




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