Counter-terrorism in France
A very real threat
France and French interests have been the target of international terrorism linked to the situation in the Near and Middle East in the 1980s, the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in Algeria in the 1990s, and international jihadist networks close to or inspired by Al-Qaeda since the 2001 attacks in the United States and the subsequent war on terror. Attacks carried out by the latter include the bombing of a naval defence contractor’s bus in Karachi and the attack on the Limburg supertanker off Aden in 2002, the murder of seven people in Montauban and Toulouse in March 2012 and the murder and kidnapping of French nationals abroad – tourists, expatriates and members of the armed forces – in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan since 2007.
These terrorist networks are a constant and strategic threat to France, which continues to be a target, as is regularly apparent from the declarations of Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, and Abdelmakel Droukdel, national emir of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly GSPC). France itself or French nationals and French interests abroad can be equally at risk from the terrorist threat. However, the dismantling of several terrorist cells since 2001 has prevented the perpetration of terrorist attacks on French soil.
National counter-terrorism resources
France has improved its counter-terrorism capacity after each wave of attacks, introducing anti-terrorism legislation in 1986 and 1996 and, after the Madrid and London bombings, Act 2006-64 of 23 January 2006 on action against terrorism, containing various provisions on security and border checks.
Under Article 421-1 of the French Penal Code, all acts of terrorism are now autonomous offences liable to increased penalties. Terrorist activity is generally taken to consist in the perpetration of one of a limitative list of criminal offences “in connection with an individual or collective undertaking, the purpose of which is seriously to disturb public order through intimidation or terror”. Some offences, however, such as environmental terrorism, conspiracy to commit a terrorist offence and the financing of terrorism are now specific offences. Terrorist offences are subject to specific procedural rules which include the centralisation of investigation, prosecution and trial within a single jurisdiction made up of specialist members of the judiciary with competence for the whole of France.
France has also set up a specific victim compensation scheme, through the guarantee fund for victims of terrorism (1986) and other criminal acts, which provides compensation to all victims, whatever their nationality, of terrorist acts perpetrated in France and to all French victims of terrorist acts perpetrated outside France.
Since the 2006 Anti-Terrorism Act, persons or entities that commit or attempt to commit terrorist acts may have their assets frozen by order of the Minister of the Economy and Finance. This measure supplements the EU and UN anti-terrorist lists, which also allow asset-freezing measures against persons and entities involved in terrorist acts.
On 21 December 2012, Parliament adopted Act 2012-1432 on security and action against terrorism. The Act steps up sanctions against persons who are “guilty of justification of or incitement to terrorism on the internet”. It provides for the prosecution in French courts of terrorist acts committed in other countries by French nationals or persons habitually residing in France, by allowing for the prosecution of persons who attend terrorist training camps outside France even though no misdeed has been committed on French territory, and for the extension of asset-freezing to persons who incite to terrorism.
There is broad consensus on this system, which is effective and respects the rule of law, since the reality of the threat is no longer in dispute. Under the French system, cases of terrorism are given specific treatment but are not the subject of exceptional measures.
Specialist intelligence and police units
The counter-terrorism unit at the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE – Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure) has been given increased manpower and resources.
A decree of 27 June 2008 created the Central Domestic Intelligence Directorate (DCRI- Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur) by merging the counter-intelligence service (DST- Direction de la sécurité du territoire) with the Central Directorate for General Intelligence (DCRG – Direction centrale des renseignements généraux), one of whose four main priorities was the fight against terrorism.
The Anti-Terrorist Coordination Unit (UCLAT – Unité de coordination de la lutte anti-terroriste) was set up to coordinate the police and the national gendarmerie, which has its own anti-terrorist brigade (BLAT- brigade de lutte anti-terroriste).
The National Intelligence Council (CNR – Conseil national du renseignement) was created, including the appointment of a coordinator answerable to the President of the Republic. One of the Council’s working groups specialises in evaluating the terrorist threat.
In conspiracy to commit a terrorist offence, prevention agencies (the DCRI is both an intelligence agency and a unit of the criminal police) and criminal judges have an effective judicial instrument which enables them to dismantle networks before an attack takes place.
Two operational police units, the National Gendarmerie Action Group (GIGN – Groupe d’intervention de la gendarmerie nationale) and the RAID (Research, Assistance, Intervention and Deterrence), have a brief to counter serious threats to public security.
Vigipirate is a national security alert system, the level of which varies according to the specialists’ evaluation of the threat.
Judicial procedures for terrorism cases
Terrorism cases in France are investigated under judicial supervision and prosecuted and tried in regular courts. Specialist anti-terrorist prosecution services have been set up and the anti-terrorist branch of the Paris prosecutor’s office has nationwide competence. Judges in terrorism trials are not specialists, though the jury is made up of professional judges, the evidentiary system is modified and the penalties are harsher.
France emphasises the need for preventive political action to supplement indispensable law enforcement measures. It set out its vision in spring 2006, in the French government White Paper on domestic Security against Terrorism.
The French approach to combating radicalisation is based mainly on compliance with the law. It does not seek to oppose an ideological stance which may in some cases contribute to the commission of a violent act but does not automatically lead to the use of violence. French practice focuses on infringements of the law (incitement to violence or racial hatred, etc.), not on support for a particular position, which would be contrary to the French conception of freedom of conscience and expression.
International cooperation in counter-terrorism
Through essential exchanges between intelligence agencies, extensive arrangements exist for technical cooperation and diplomatic dialogue with our main partners.
INTCEN (Intelligence Analysis Centre) has two arms, one for analysis, the other for external relations, and is responsible for analysing intelligence, giving early warnings and evaluating situations. It provides input to the High Representative of the European External Action Service, EU security, foreign policy, defence and counter-terrorism agencies and Member States.
There are three working groups which monitor counter-terrorism in the EU:
COTER, which deals with issues relating to terrorism outside the EU, especially by conducting bilateral dialogues with our main partners, and to technical assistance to third countries;
the TWG, which deals with specific issues relating to internal security within the EU;
the group which monitors the EU anti-terrorist list.The EU has had a counter-terrorism coordinator since March 2004, shortly after the Madrid bombings, responsible for coordinating counter-terrorist activities within the EU.
Police and judicial cooperation have been improved within the EU Justice and Home Affairs pillar and the Europol and Eurojust agencies.
The Commission provides technical assistance to third countries in liaison with the European External Action Service.
The United Nations play a central role in counter-terrorism:
by implementing the Global Anti-Terrorist Strategy, adopted in September 2006 and reviewed regularly;
through various specific sectoral conventions developed over the years in response to new threats;
through the action of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate;
through the action of the 1267/1989 Committee.In the G8 framework, the Lyon-Roma Group covers terrorism and organised crime.
The Council of Europe plays a normative role, in particular through CODEXTER, its Committee of Experts on Terrorism. It adopted the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism in January 1977 and protocols amending it in May 2003 and in 2005, and has adopted a European Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism and a Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism.
In 1999, NATO was acknowledged for the first time to have a counter-terrorism role. Greater consideration has been given to terrorism in NATO’s work since 9/11, by involving military intelligence more closely in analysis of the threat, strengthening the role of the Special Committee in improving exchanges of intelligence about terrorism between the allies, and enhancing exchanges of information about the link between terrorism and the proliferation of CBRN weapons and technologies. At the summit of Heads of State and Government of NATO countries held in Chicago in May 2012, NATO approved new guidelines on counter-terrorism which emphasise greater awareness of the threat, sufficient capabilities and greater engagement alongside partner countries and other international players.
The OSCE set up an anti-terrorist unit in 2003. Since 9/11, a consensus has emerged that the forum should be used for political initiatives, in particular to encourage its members to ratify UN conventions or to step up technical assistance on the subject to member countries. In December 2012, the OSCE adopted a specific decision which describes the efforts made by the organisation since 2001.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was set up by the OECD countries to combat money laundering. Its brief was extended to combating the financing of terrorism after 9/11 and it has adopted nine special recommendations on the subject.
The Euro-Mediterranean partnership adopted an anti-terrorist code of conduct in November 2005.
The Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF) was launched in New York in September 2011 on the occasion of the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Forum’s aims are to support implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, facilitate international, interregional and global cooperation and encourage a community-based approach to counter-terrorism. Operating on the basis of exchanges of non-sensitive information, the GCTF drafts memoranda and compiles good practices in order to circulate tried and tested counter-terrorist methods to its members (the EU and 29 other countries). It channels its action through five working groups, three of them geographical (Sahel, Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia) and two thematic (Countering Violent Extremism and Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law). The Second Ministerial in Istanbul on 7 June 2012 adopted a memorandum on criminal justice and the rule of law and a memorandum on countering radicalisation. The Third Ministerial in Abu Dhabi on 14 December 2012 adopted an action plan for the victims of terrorism and a memorandum on kidnapping for ransom.