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France to Crack Down on Would-be Jihadists

  • Lisa Bryant

FILE - French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve leaves the Elysee Palace following a weekly Cabinet meeting in Paris, May 2014.

FILE - French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve leaves the Elysee Palace following a weekly Cabinet meeting in Paris, May 2014.

France's leftist government has introduced legislation to stop would-be jihadists from leaving the country, and posing security threats when they return home. The measures reflect mounting international concern about Westerners joining the fighting in countries like Syria and Iraq.

France's draft legislation includes an arsenal of measures aimed to toughen surveillance and detention of suspects with links to radical Islamist groups, including preventing them from leaving French territory. The French government believes it has good reason to toughen its anti-terrorism laws.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve estimates roughly 800 young people have joined jihadist fighting overseas, mostly in Syria. Roughly 100 are now heading home.

Interviewed on France Info radio just before introducing the bill, Interior Minister Cazeneuve says these young jihadists witness barbaric acts overseas. They return destroyed, and prepared to commit extremely violent acts back home, presenting a security threat for France and Europe.

Previous attacks

France is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Algerian Islamists bombed a Paris metro station in the 1990s. Today, terrorists are home-grown, including Islamist Mohamed Merah who shot dead seven people in Toulouse in 2012. French-Algerian Mehdi Nemmouche has been charged with gunning down four people at a Brussels' Jewish museum in May.

​If passed, the measures will make it easier for authorities to hold and question suspects in France and track those travelling across Europe's "border-free" Schengen area. It also takes aim at the surge of jihadist recruitment on the Web.

Minister Cazeneuve wants to block Internet sites that incite anti-Semitism, terrorism and hatred, at the European and international levels.

Mounting concern

The draft legislation comes amid heightened concern about Westerners joining jihadist movements. The United States estimates there are about 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone.

On Tuesday, European Union ministers reportedly adopted an action plan to respond to security threats posed by returning jihadists that are confronting countries like Britain and Belgium, as well as France. In Norway, Attorney General Eric Holder called for Europe to adopt tougher anti-terrorism laws.

In France, the draft legislation has drawn a mixed reaction. French Association for Victims of Terrorism spokesman Stephane Lacombe says the measures are only a partial response to home-grown radicalism.

"We have to deal with education, we have to deal with prevention in schools, on the ground," he said. "It is true that some of these young [people] living in France have the kind of profile linked with delinquency, problems at schools. But it is not the only reason."

Critics argue the draft legislation violates basic rights, and suggest efforts to pass European-wide anti-terrorism measures are unlikely to succeed.