PARIS // France yesterday ordered prosecutors to crack down on hate speech and glorifying terrorism as president Francois Hollande sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East to join the fight against ISIL militants.
The French air force is already carrying out airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq. The situation “justifies the presence of our aircraft carrier”, Mr Hollande said aboard the carrier Charles de Gaulle yesterday.
More than 50 people have been arrested since terror attacks in Paris last week killed 20 people, including three gunmen linked to ISIL and Al Qaeda in Yemen.
France has deployed 10,000 troops and 120,000 security forces to protect sensitive sites such as mosques, synagogues and travel hubs.
Al Qaeda in Yemen said it was responsible for the attack last week on the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi shot dead 12 people and ignited three days of bloodshed around Paris that left 17 victims dead.
The attacks ended on Friday when security forces killed both gunmen and an accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, who had killed a policewoman, seized hostages at a Jewish grocery and killed four of them.
French police say as many as six members of the terror cell may still be at large, including a man seen driving a car registered to Coulibaly’s widow. She is now thought to be in Syria.
In an 11-minute video, Nasr Al Ansi, a commander of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said the group “chose the target, laid out the plan and financed the operation”, and that the newspaper attack was “vengeance for the Prophet”.
US intelligence officials said there was no evidence Al Qaeda coordinated the attack or knew about it in advance.
France has been tightening security and searching for accomplices since the terror attacks.
The justice ministry said the 54 people arrested in the past week included four minors, and several had already been convicted under special measures for immediate sentencing. Inciting terrorism can bring a five-year prison term, or up to seven years for inciting terrorism online.
Among those detained was Dieudonne, a comedian with repeated convictions for racism and anti-Semitism. His performances were banned last year but he has a core following among France’s disaffected youth.
In a Facebook post that was swiftly deleted, the comic said he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly” – merging the names of Charlie Hebdo and Amedy Coulibaly.
In a separate post, the comic wrote an open letter to France’s interior minister.
“Whenever I speak, you do not try to understand what I’m trying to say, you do not want to listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to forbid me. You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly when I am not any different from Charlie,” he wrote.
In a message distributed to all French prosecutors and judges, the justice ministry laid out the legal basis for rounding up those who defended the Paris terror attacks as well as those responsible for racist or anti-Semitic words or acts.
The ministry said it was issuing the order to protect freedom of expression from comments that could incite violence or hatred. It said no one should be allowed to use their religion to justify hate speech.
The order warned authorities to be particularly attentive to any incidents that could lead to urban unrest or violence against police.
The government is also writing broader new laws on phone-tapping and other intelligence to fight terrorism, spokesman Stephane Le Foll said. It is also launching a deeper project to rethink France’s education system, urban policies and integration model.
“We have all heard `Yes, I support Charlie, but,’ the double standards, the `Why defend liberty of expression here and not there?”’ education minister Najat Vallaud Belkacem said.
“These questions are intolerable above all when we hear them at school, which has the duty to teach our values.”
* Associated Press