France unveils raft of anti-terror measures after Paris attacks

More than 700 million euros would be spent over the next three years as France continues its 'fight against terrorism', announced prime minister Manuel Valls.

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PARIS // France on Wednesday unveiled a raft of measures to curb radicalisation and better monitor extremists two weeks after a killing spree in Paris that sent shockwaves across Europe.

Jitters from the worst attack on French soil in decades have spread to the country's neighbours and the European Union was also expected to reveal new counterterrorism measures after a meeting on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said more than 700 million euros (Dh2.97 billion) would be spent over the next three years on “the fight against terrorism” after the January 7-9 shootings which left 17 people dead.

The attacks by known extremists exposed weaknesses in French intelligence, and Mr Valls said about 3,000 people with extremist ties needed to be monitored. The number of people with links to “terrorist networks” in Syria and Iraq had soared 130 per cent in the past year, he said.

In response, France will create 2,680 new jobs to fight extremism, just under half of them in the intelligence services.

“The number one priority, the number one requirement, is to further reinforce the human and technical resources of intelligence services,” Mr Valls said, adding that a draft law to do just that would be debated in parliament in early March.

A large part of the effort to combat extremism is fighting radicalisation, and Mr Valls announced an extra 60 Muslim chaplains would be hired on top of the 182 who already work in jails.

Two of the Paris gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi, are believed to have turned to radical Islam in prison where they met.

Mr Valls said last week that prisoners linked to extremist Islam could be isolated in jail, and one jail near Paris is currently experimenting with this method.

Authorities will also boost their fight against “cyber jihadism”, he said, without giving specific details.

France's worst attack in decades began on January 7 when Cherif and his brother Said Kouachi gunned down 12 people in an attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Coulibaly shot dead a policewoman the next day, and the day after that killed four people in a hostage drama in a Jewish supermarket. All three gunmen were killed in police raids.

The attacks have forced France to face up to its failure to integrate poorer, migrant families, with Mr Valls saying on Tuesday that the country was plagued by “social and ethnic apartheid”.

Education officials are to announce plans to boost civic spirit and respect of France’s highly prized secularism in schools, after a series of incidents where pupils refused to honour tributes to the attack victims and expressed support for the extremists.

The attacks prompted a flurry of police activity across Europe, with raids taking place on suspected extremist cells in Belgium and Germany.

Greece on Tuesday ordered the extradition of a 33-year-old Algerian man with suspected links to an extremist cell dismantled in Belgium.

And in Bulgaria, a court ruled that a Frenchman who knew two of the Paris attackers should be returned to his home country.

In Brussels, European commissioners were meeting on Wednesday to discuss the 28-nation bloc’s new counterterrorism strategy, including changes to the region’s Schengen free travel area and intelligence cooperation.

Many EU states have pushed for a US-style database of air travellers’ details that would help track suspects, but the European Parliament has so far rejected the scheme as a breach civil liberties.

Some nations have also been pushing for a tightening of the Schengen visa-free zone.

“They will discuss subjects including passenger name records and data retention, the functioning of the Schengen area and cooperation between security services,” commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.

There have been massive protests in Muslim countries after Charlie Hebdo responded to the killing of its staff by publishing a new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in its next edition.

Banned by Islam, the depiction of the Prophet was taken as an insult to Muslims, who burnt French flags and threatened the country in protests in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Gaza, Iran and Pakistan.

In Niger the protests turned deadly as 10 people were killed and dozens of churches were torched.

* Agence France-Presse