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TERRORISM

French anti-terror bill explained: How emergency powers are now law

Here's a breakdown of France's controversial new anti-terror powers that were approved by parliament this week and critics say will leave the country in a permanent state of emergency.

French anti-terror bill explained: How emergency powers are now law
Photo: AFP

French lawmakers on Tuesday approved tough new anti-terrorism law that gives the police vastly expanded powers to search homes, place people under house arrest and close places of worship.

The bill, passed by France's lower house of parliament, makes permanent some of the exceptional measures contained in the state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks. The state of emergency is set to expire on November 1.



Places of worship

The bill allows the top government official in each of France's regions to order the closure of mosques, churches or other places of worship for six
months if preachers are found to have incited attacks or glorified terrorism.

Investigators will not be required to provide proof of radical preaching or writings. The venue can be closed on the basis of the “ideas and theories”
circulated among devotees.

The management of the religious site will have 48 hours to appeal the closure. Non-compliance will carry a three-year prison sentence and fine of 45,000 euros ($53,000).

Security zones 

The authorities can seal off areas around a place or an event, such as a concert, that they deem vulnerable to attack.

People wanting to enter the area will be subjected to searches by the police or private security guards.

Identity checks

The bill gives the police more powers to carry out stop-and-search operations — one of the most controversial elements which rights groups fear
will lead to harassment of ethnic minorities and Muslims.

Under EU border rules, security services can already carry out identity spot checks in border areas and train stations.

The bill expands that to include areas around train stations as well as a vast swathe of territory around international ports and airports, up to a radius of 20 kilometres — a provision that could include a large section of the mainly immigrant Paris suburbs.



House arrest

The bill allows the interior minister to place suspected jihadist sympathisers who are not accused of a specific crime under a loose form of
house arrest, without the prior approval of a judge.

Under the state of emergency, the individual was confined to his or her home.

The “individual surveillance measures” contained in the bill, which can last up to a year, allows the individuals to go beyond their front door but they must remain with the boundaries of their town or city.

If they want to go further they have to wear an electronic bracelet.

They have 48 hours to appeal the restrictions to a judge and must report to the police once a day.

Home searches

A local police chief can ask a judge for a warrant to search — the bill uses the term “visit” — the homes of people with suspected terror links for evidence.

The person whose home is searched can be held for four hours, during which documents, data and objects can be seized.

Under the state of emergency, the police have had the power to raid homes without a judge's green light, including at night.

Radicalised public servants

A civil servant working in an area related to security or defence can be transferred or even dismissed from the public service if he or she is found to
hold radical opinions.

Soldiers can also be discharged for similar motives.

Passenger data

The bill transposes into French law an EU directive allowing security services to access the travel data of airline passengers and provides for the creation of a similar system for maritime travellers.

Wiretapping

The bill allows the intelligence agencies to continue to use algorithms to tap into phone and email communications to try detect suspicious behaviour.

by AFP's Clare Byrne

TERRORISM

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.

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