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TERRORISM

Macron urges French police to make full use of draconian anti-terror powers

French president Emmanuel ignored controversy and criticism surrounding France's new draconian anti-terror bill and urged police forces around the country to "fully utilise" their new powers.

Macron urges French police to make full use of draconian anti-terror powers
Photo: AFP

The French parliament on Wednesday adopted a controversial anti-terror bill that gives the authorities permanent new powers to search homes, shut places of worship and restrict freedom of movement.

The new law, which will replace the state of emergency imposed after the 2015 Paris attacks, was approved by the Senate on its second reading, despite campaigners warning of a threat to civil liberties.

The lower house National Assembly overwhelmingly approved it last week.

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

The legislation, which sparked weeks of intense debate in parliament, makes permanent several of the measures included in the emergency laws enacted after the Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed.

The state of emergency expires on November 1, after being extended six times.

In a major speech on security, President Emmanuel Macron said the compromise bill agreed by lawmakers would allow the authorities to combat
terrorism “without abandoning our values and principles”.

Addressing an audience of security force members, he urged them to “fully utilise” their new powers.

Under the bill, the authorities will have the power to close religious sites that promote radical ideas, heavily curtail the movements of suspected
jihadist sympathisers and screen people in areas around any event or place deemed vulnerable to attack.

France has been hit by a series of attacks since 2015 by known or suspected Islamic extremists that have left 241 people dead.

Macron said that 13 terror plots had been foiled since the start of 2017.

He said he would bolster intelligence gathering in prisons, which have been a breeding ground for radicalisation, and devise programmes to prevent young people in troubled neighbourhoods from coming under the spell of extremist groups.

Citing the “total absence of economic and social mobility” in the predominantly immigrant suburbs as one of the factors driving youths into the arms of groups like the Islamic State (IS), he said: “We must attack these problems at the root.”

France had one of the biggest contingents of foreign jihadists fighting alongside IS in Iraq and Syria, with around 1,000 nationals estimated to have joined the ranks of the Sunni extremists.

The prospect of their return after the collapse of IS's self-proclaimed “caliphate” is a source of acute concern for the security services.


The right balance? 

The new anti-terror legislation has encountered little resistance from the public, reflecting a hardening of attitudes after nearly three years of periodic attacks.

A recent poll found 57 percent of the French were in favour of tougher laws, even if 62 percent of them feared basic freedoms would suffer as a
result.

Apart from being able to confine suspected terrorism sympathisers to their neighbourhoods, the police will be able to carry out more on-the-spot identity checks in border areas, as well as around train stations, ports and airports.

Rights groups have voiced fears that such checks will be chiefly used ,against migrants and minorities, particularly Muslims.

Human Rights Watch criticised what it called a “normalisation of emergency powers” and UN experts raised objections in a letter to the French government last month.

But the bill nonetheless sailed through parliament, backed by Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party — which has a large majority — and the conservative Republicans.

France has progressively tightened its legal arsenal to tackle terror threats over the years, passing around 15 different laws since 1986.

The last fatal attack took place on October 1, when an undocumented Tunisian who had recently been released from detention, stabbed two women to death in the southern port of Marseille.

Macron on Wednesday vowed to step up the expulsion of undocumented migrants.

In a separate development, the police this week arrested several people over a suspected rightwing extremist plot to target mosques and politicians, including a government spokesman.

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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