France seeks unity and resists calls to toughen terror laws

The French president is under pressure to harden France laws to fight terror, but after the latest terror attack François Hollande insists unity is more vital for France than "restricting freedoms".

France seeks unity and resists calls to toughen terror laws
Photo: AFP

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday rejected opposition calls to further harden anti-terrorism legislation after the country's second jihadist attack in two weeks.

The president said that to “restrict freedoms and deviating from constitutional rules, would have no effect on the fight against terrorism” and would simply “weaken the cohesion of the nation”.

Hollande's challenge to head off divisions in the country in the face of the terror threat began on Wednesday morning when he welcomed leaders of France's main religions to the Elysée Palace.

All religious leaders called for more security at places of worship, but they were keen to stress their unity.

The Archbishop of Paris, Andre Vingt-Trois, praised the harmonious relations between France's religions.

“We must not let ourselves get pulled in to Daesh's political games,” he said, referring to Isis, saying it wanted “to set children of the same family against each other”.

The French president said that changes made to legislation already gave authorities sufficient “capacity to act”.

He was speaking after two jihadists attacked a church in a Normandy town, killing an elderly Catholic priest by slitting his throat, and severely injuring another person.

Hollande's predecessor and opposition chief Nicolas Sarkozy earlier called for the government to “thoroughly change … the strategy of our counterattack.”

“Our enemy has no taboos, no limits, no morals, no borders,” he said, asking the government to adopt proposals made by his right-wing Republicans party.

The opposition wants anyone suspect of being radicalised to be placed in detention and to prevent convicted terrorists from being released from prison after having served time, if they are still considered dangerous.

The Republicans also wants to make it a criminal offence to have spent time in the “field of terrorist operations”, namely Syria and Iraq.

However those returning from jihad can already be charged with criminal conspiracy with a terrorist enterprise.

Since two gunmen walked into the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in January 2015 the French government has introduced a raft of legislation aimed at battling terrorism for a new sweeping spying law to giving police the power to carry arms off duty.

READ ALSO: What has France actually done to tackle terrorism

What has France actually done to fight terrorism?

Following the Nice truck attack the government bowed to pressure from the opposition and increased the state of emergency for a further six months and this time added some new powers to make it easier to search and keep tabs on suspects.

“The government is using all human and material means to fight this threat, with a mobilisation of police, gendarmes and soldiers never before seen in the Fifth Republic,” said Hollande.

The president has urged unity in a country poisoned by bitter political blame-trading over security failings after a Tunisian national mowed down a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on July 14, killing 84.

“What the terrorists want is to divide us, separate us, to tear us apart. We must avoid one-upmanship, arguments, conflation, suspicions,” he said.

“This war will be long. Our democracy is the target, and it will be our shield. Let us stand together. We will win this war.”

His refusal to bow to pressure to tighten laws was echoed by his Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“After each terror attack, we cannot just invent a new law,” said Valls who warned about the danger of descending into a “war of religions”.

“Terrorists want to set the French against each other and to attack a religion in order to provoke a war of religions,” the PM said.

Politicians and even the head of France's internal security services have spoken recently of a kind of civil war in France.

The government is fearful that the more the attacks keep happening the greater the chance is of different French communities turning on each other.

“We must do everything to unite the French,” one advisor told Le Figaro newspaper. “What are the right and extreme right hoping to achieve? Do they want to give Isis what they want by dividing us and putting our democracy and the rule of law into question?”





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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.