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7th May 2021

France seeks answers to security challenge

  • Place de la Republique, Paris. The French government is looking for strategies to fight terrorists inside and outside the country. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

French authorities launched police raids against suspected Islamic radicals in several French cities on Monday morning (16 November), a few hours after France also struck a series of Islamic State (IS) sites in Raqqa, Syria on Sunday evening.

Both moves illustrate the security challenges France is trying to tackle in the wake of the terror attacks that killed 129 people and left 352 injured in Paris on Friday.

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Security forces carried out the raids in Toulouse, Grenoble, in the Lille region, and in Bobigny, a Paris suburb. The raids were launched at 1.00am local time and were still going in the morning.

"More than 150 searches were carried out," prime minister Manuel Valls said Monday morning.

Sources said the raids may not have a direct link to the attacks but were part of a larger anti-terror reaction against identified potential jihadists. Several people were arrested and arms and money were seized, according to first reports.

Under the state of emergency declared Friday evening, police operations can be launched more easily than in a normal situation.

Monday's operations follow arrests on Sunday around Paris and in Belgium. At least three of the attackers, who died while exploding their bombs, were French nationals living in the Brussels district of Molenbeek.

Another man, considered as the leader of the eight-man commando cell, is being hunted by police. He had been stopped and checked on Saturday morning at the French-Belgian border, before the investigation indicated he was involved in the attacks.

'All means within the law'

The IS group, also known as Daesh, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday.

On Sunday evening, 10 French jet fighters dropped 20 bombs on an IS base in Raqqa, Syria. French authorities said a command post and a training camp were destroyed.

The operation was conducted in cooperation with US forces. The French ministry of defense said more raids will take place against training camps, oil infrastructure, and command posts.

"They will not be spectacular strikes but a progressive ramp-up," defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

President Francois Hollande said on Saturday that the Paris attacks were "an act of war" and designated Daesh as the enemy.


He said France would "use all means within the law" to fight the terrorists, "on every battleground here and abroad together with our allies.”

The president, who will address a congress of both houses of the French parliament Monday, is considering extending the state of emergency from 12 days to three months.

The measure gives more power to police and intelligence services, allows curfews and house arrests and facilitates border controls.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government will close radical mosques "where some call for or declare hatred,” and expel foreign radical clerics.

On Tuesday, the number of military personnel deployed in France will also be stepped up to 10,000, against 7,000 before the attacks.

Going further

But Hollande and the government are under pressure to go further.

Despite a new anti-terror law giving more power to security services last spring, the terrorist attack was not prevented, and counter-terrorism specialists have expressed concerns they are not equipped to face the terrorists' new methods.

On Sunday, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the opposition party, Les Republicains, called for all identified radicals to be put under house arrest with an electronic bracelet.

"It is not realistic to let [them be] at large and to behave as if they were not a potential danger," he said, noting that 11,500 people are subject to a so-called S-file, indicating they are considered as potentially dangerous radicals.

One of the identified suicide bombers had an S-file, as did the killers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in January and the killer at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014.

Sarkozy also said all people coming back from Iraq and Syria should be "put in prison" or expelled if they have double citizenship.

To step up its and Europe's response, France demanded an extraordinary meeting of European interior ministers on 20 November.

The meeting "will focus on the following key subjects: a European PNR [airlines passengers data], the question of firearms security and the reinforcement of controls at external borders," Cazeneuve said in a common statement with his German and Luxembourg colleagues.

Hollande's reference to an act of war also triggered questions over the legal and political implications of the word.

Would France invoke Nato's Article 5 stating that an attack against a member of the Atlantic alliance "shall be considered an attack against them all”?

A regular meeting of European defence minister on Tuesday will probably be transformed into an emergency discussion on the attacks.

Syria strategy

Meanwhile, Sunday's raids on Syria also raise the issue of France's strategy in the region.

France has been engaged against IS in Syria since september 2014 and recently said it would send its nuclear aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaule in the region.

France has also been the staunchest critic of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

But Hollande is now under pressure to change strategy, accept a common front with Assad to fight IS, and line up with Russia.

"We must draw on the consequences of the situation in Syria. We need everyone in order to exterminate Daech, including the Russians. There cannot be two coalitions in Syria," Sarkozy said on Sunday.

His call was echoed by former prime minister Dominique de Villepin and by the influential former foreign affairs minister Hubert Vedrine.

In Paris under shock, all feel attacked

In the wake of the terror attacks that killed at least 129 people Friday, Parisians pay homage to the dead and, 10 months after the January killings, wonder what will come next.

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