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France Unveils Counterterror Measures

  • Lisa Bryant

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France will create 2,680 new security positions over the next three years to help counter the threat of Islamic extremism.

Valls announced the new measures on television Wednesday after his weekly cabinet meeting, saying Paris will spend nearly $500 million on the effort to battles terrorism in the wake of this month's deadly attacks.

The newly unveiled measures will also include recruiting more imams for French prisons and offering information on the Internet aimed at preventing youths from becoming radicalized. Valls also said protection of police and other security officers will be upgraded to account for the presence of battlefield-grade weapons on the streets. Three French police officers were killed in this month's attacks.

In addition, Valls said authorities will reinforce the fight against cyberjihadism and step up surveillance of terrorist suspects. He said surveillance is needed right now for about 3,000 suspects in France and abroad. Officials also estimate about 1,200 French nationals have joined jihadist groups in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, France announced it will cut 7,500 fewer military jobs than previously planned to step up the fight against terrorism.

President Francois Hollande met with his top security advisers Wednesday to discuss France’s military program. His office said the defense will cut 18,300 positions instead of 25,800 between 2015 and 2019. This year, the military will make 1,500 fewer cuts than planned; they're likely to be made by summer.

Four charged in kosher market attack

Also Wednesday, French investigators said they have charged four people in connection with the attack on a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris that resulted in the deaths of four hostages.

Prosecutors said that the men charged have ties to Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a hostage standoff at a Jewish supermarket January 9. He was killed in a police raid that ended the siege. A day earlier, he had killed a policewoman.

The four men are suspected of having provided support for Coulibaly. According to the Associated Press, they're charged with "association with terrorism."

The kosher market shootings ended three days of terror attacks around Paris that started with the killing of 12 people at the Paris headquarters of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Valls told reporters earlier this week that the attacks have exposed a "geographic, social and ethnic apartheid" in France, but Belgium also launched police raids last week against suspected Islamist plotters as Germany conducted similar raids.

At meetings this week, European Union foreign ministers agreed to boost intelligence sharing to counter the terrorist threats.

The new French measures have earned a mixed reaction.

Spokesman for the center-right opposition UMP party, Sebastien Huyghe, faulted the leftist government for reacting to militant Islam too slowly.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen called the government's measures insufficient. She said they failed to address the root causes of Islamist terrorism, including immigration.

Charlie Hebdo, known for mocking religion and other targets, became the focus of worldwide sympathy after the terror attacks. Its first edition after the attacks caricatured the Prophet Mohammed on its cover and its initial run of 3 million copies — vastly beyond the magazine's regular 60,000 weekly circulation — sold out within minutes. The run later was increased to 5 million.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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