Cablegate: France: 2009 Country Reports On Terrosim


DE RUEHFR #1737/01 3560729
P 220729Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 109980

1. The French Republic in the 21st century finds itself grappling
with an Islamist threat that reflects the nation's changing
demographics. An estimated five to six million residents of France
are Muslim - potentially a full 10 percent of the population.
Several public announcements by al-Qaida (AQ) and other groups
reiterate that French interests remain key targets of al-Qaida in
the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In response to President Sarkozy's June
comments calling for the banning of the burka in France, AQIM
spelled out their intentions to attack France stating, "We will do
everything in our power to avenge our sisters' and our daughters'
honor, by striking France and its interests, wherever they may be."

2. Traditionally, local Corsican separatists, Basque Fatherland and
Liberty (ETA) members and ultra-left anarchist factions have been
responsible for the majority of attacks and arrests classified as
terrorism in France. However, the number and violence of ETA and
Corsican attacks in France have continued their downward trend. In
2009 the French intelligence services have recognized an elevated
threat from an "international European network of radical Islamists
with a strong presence in France." In response to that threat, and
motivated by the attacks in Mumbai, on December 1 the French
Ministry of interior created the National Police Intervention Force
(FIPN). The FIPN brings together the Special Weapons and Tactics
(SWAT) elements of multiple French Police units to form a 500 man
SWAT team. The goal of the FIPN is to respond to multiple
simultaneous terrorist attacks on French soil. France remains on
high alert and recognizes that they are a target of AQIM and of
other extremist groups in France and abroad.

3. Although no terrorist attacks took place on French soil during
2009, French interests were targeted and attacked abroad:
-- On January 5, court proceedings began in Paris for the April
2002 suicide bombing of a Djerba Synagogue. The attack killed 14
German and two French nationals. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a
co-defendant, accused of being responsible for all AQ external
operations during that time frame.
-- In April, French President Sarkozy announced that France and
Spain would set up a joint security committee to fight terrorism and
drug trafficking. The group, which is an expansion of existing
police cooperation targeted at ETA, created a joint general staff
headquarters on security to lead the fight on terrorism. Shortly
after the creation of the joint staff, on August 19, French police
arrested three top members of the military arm of ETA: Alberto
Machain, Aitzol Etxaburu and Andono Sarasola. Additionally, police
found weapons and bomb making materials. Three days later on August
22, France police found and impounded three more ETA weapons caches.
On October 11, French police in Montpellier arrested the deputy
commander of ETAs military wing, Lurgi Mendinueta and another senior
ETA member, Jones Larretxea. On October 19, French police arrested
ETAs political chief, Aitor Lizan Aguilar as well as ten other ETA
members. France and Spain's near decimation of ETA leadership
highlights the benefits of close regional cooperation and
demonstrates the effectiveness of the French counterterrorism (CT)
-- On July 14, two French security service personnel, reportedly in
Somalia to train government forces in CT operations, were kidnapped
and held by two separate groups - Hezb al-Islam and Al-Shabab. The
later group is considered a proxy for AQ in the Horn of Africa. On
August 26, the hostage held by Hezb al-Islam was freed, although the
circumstances of his release or escape remain unclear. Initial
reports suggested he killed his kidnappers and escaped. Later
reports intimated that a ransom had been paid to Hezb al-Islam and
the hostage was freed.
-- On August 18, AQIM claimed responsibility for the August 8,
suicide bombing at the French Embassy in Mauritania that injured
three people. The bombing took place three days after Mohammed Ould
Abdel Azziz directed a successful coup against Mauritania's first
freely elected president.
-- On October 9, a suspected AQ operative was arrested with his
brother in Paris. The operative had been working on projects for a
nuclear-research facility near Geneva. French intelligence
investigators said the physicist, a man of Algerian origin, was
working on analysis projects at a "very high level" related to the
Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear
Research, or CERN. Officials say the suspect had been in contact
with people linked to al Qaeda's North African wing about potential
targets for terrorism in France, and he had expressed a desire to
carry out such attacks but had "not committed material preparatory
acts." The interior minister determined that the brothers were
enough of a threat to be arrested, ending the French government's
18-month-long surveillance of them.
-- On November 26, a French citizen was kidnapped in Northern Mali.
On December 8, an AQ off-shoot claimed responsibility for the
kidnapping. The French intelligence services were aware of what
appeared to be a rise in kidnappings of French citizens, yet
remained hesitant to classify them as terrorist activity (as opposed
to criminal) until a specific group had claimed responsibility and
they could investigate the circumstances leading up to the
-- French authorities detained and prosecuted a number of people
with ties to various terrorist organizations, including Islamic
Terrorists (18 convictions), Corsican Nationalists (19 convictions),
Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members (28 convictions), the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) (22 convictions), and Kurds
with links to Kongra-Gel/Kuridstan Worker's Party (PKK) (16
convictions). It should be noted that the number of arrests of
ultra-left anarchists dropped from 17 in 2008, to zero in 2009.
Additionally, the number of Corsican Nationalists convicted dropped
from 46 in 2008, to 19 in 2009. The number of LTTE members arrested
however, jumped from two in 2008, to 22 in 2009, which may be linked
to the military crackdown in Sri Lanka during this same period.

4. The French government undertook several CT operations with other
countries including the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and
Portugal. In addition to undertaking operations to arrest and
prosecute terrorists, France continued programs to address
radicalization and extremism through the use of social and economic
incentives to reduce the susceptibility of at risk populations. Of
particular note, the French government went to great efforts to
train police personnel to be aware of the signs of radicalization.
To further combat radicalization France took judicial and
administrative action against people who incite violence or hatred.
French law allows non-citizens who incite hatred or violence to be
expelled from France. The French government is very concerned about
Islamic radicalization in the French prison system. In 2008, the
governments of France, Austria and Germany jointly commissioned a
study to identify key indicators of radicalization in the prison
system and offer suggestions on how to prevent or minimize
radicalization within the penal system. In 2009 the document was
provided to all 27 members of the European Union and was requested
by, and provided to, nine non-EU states. Within the EU, France
hosted a conference on November 13, to help other EU-countries
understand the benefits of a CT coordination center.

5. Frances's most recent CT legislation was adopted in 2006. Three
articles in that legislation, pre-emptive identification checks on
cross border trains, access to phone and internet connection data,
and access to certain administrative records, were originally passed
as temporary measures and needed to be extended by the French
National Assembly. In November 2008, those provisions were extended
until 2012.

6. Preliminary detention for suspected terrorists in France is six
days. The state may thereafter place suspects under pre-trial
detention for up to four years when the evidence is compelling or
when the suspect is considered to present an imminent threat. In
conjunction with local government, the national government continued
to increase video surveillance in major cities. French law allows
for seizing of assets, video and telephone surveillance, monitoring
of public transport records and provides other broad powers for
official access to connection data held by internet cafes and to
various personal data. The sentence for a convicted terrorist can
be up to 30 years for leading or organizing an attack and from 10 to
20 years for assisting a terrorist organization or operation.
Notably, French nationality may be revoked, leading to expulsion
from French territory, if the person in question was naturalized in
the preceding 15 years.

7. France is actively engaged with the UN Security Council
Counterterrorism Committee, the G8's Counterterrorism Action Group,
the UNSCR 1267 Sanctions Committee (for the Taliban and AQ) and the
European Council's Antiterrorism Strategy action plan. France is an
original member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism
and continued to participate actively. France remained a member of,
and contributor to, both the Proliferation and Container Security
Initiatives. As a Visa Waiver Program country, France continues to
upgrade passports to the Biometric Standard and held multiple talks
with the Department of Homeland Security on data sharing via the
Terrorist Screening Center. On May 15 and December 1, in support of
U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, France accepted
two former detainees and resettled them in France. On September 7,
the French terrorism coordination center (UCLAT) met with S/CT
Ambassador Benjamin to discuss on going CT cooperation with the
United States of America. UCLAT was particularly supportive of
US-France CT efforts in the Sahel and pledged closer cooperation.

8. On the military front, France currently has over 3,000 troops
participating in operations in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring
Freedom. The current French commitment includes ground troops and
air assets. French forces also participate in many military
operations to help address contain and address threats to French and
European security. These troops are located in Lebanon, in Africa,
in counter-piracy and elsewhere, where they frequently work closely
with U.S. forces.

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