Sarkozy defends tough new anti-terror law

26th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 26 (AFP) - France is set to approve a series of new anti-terrorism measures including increased use of video-surveillance and improved police access to Internet and mobile telephone records amid a heightened threat of terrorism, the interior ministry said Monday.

PARIS, Sept 26 (AFP) - France is set to approve a series of new anti-terrorism measures including increased use of video-surveillance and improved police access to Internet and mobile telephone records amid a heightened threat of terrorism, the interior ministry said Monday.

"The terrorist threat is there, and it is at a very high level," interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview with France 3 television.

When pressed on the level of risk in a range from one to five, he responded: "More likely 4 than 3."

Western democracies were targets and Paris, Berlin or Rome could be next, he said.

The powerful leader of France's ruling UMP party and a presidential contender admitted there were terrorist cells in France.

Sarkozy said the difficulty in dealing with suspected terrorist cells was to know when to act.

"If you intervene too early we do not have the legal proof about what they are preparing. If you intervene too late, we become victims," Sarkozy said.

His comments came the same day that French police in dawn raids detained nine men suspected of belonging to an Islamist militant group that authorities said was planning attacks in France.

In another measure to crack down on extremism, Sarkozy said France had expelled 34 radical Islamist preachers in the past two years and another dozen would follow "in the next few weeks".

The proposed anti-terror law, drawn up following the July bombings in London, is to be brought before the cabinet on October 19 before starting its passage though parliament, officials said.

"The measures maintain the balance between the demands of the fight against terrorism and the protection of liberties," a government official said.

The draft law was to be reviewed by the official watchdog, the National Commission on Information Technology and Freedoms, before being put to the cabinet. Some measures include a sunset clause that means they will have to be re-voted after three years.

The main provisions of the anti-terror bill are:

  -  Businesses and offices authorised to set up video-surveillance around their premises, and investigators allowed access to image banks.

  -  Right for government-appointed prefects to order the installation of video-surveillance.

  -  Internet cafes and telephone operators obliged to keep records of connections for one year.

  -  Travel companies obliged to provide authorities with personal details of passengers.

  -  Anti-terrorist investigators granted improved access to official files such as passport applications and visa requests.

  -  Maximum sentence for terrorist association increased from 20 to 30 years. Naturalised French citizens can lose nationality for 15 years.

Two amendments that could be adopted during the bill's passage through parliament would allow the extension of the initial detention period for terrorist suspects from four to six days, and guarantee anonymity to investigators in terrorist cases.

The law's most visible outcome is likely to be a big increase in the number of video-cameras installed in public places, officials said. The country currently has only some 60,000 cameras -- more than a third of them in Paris -- compared to four million in Britain.

The state-owned Paris transport company RATP, for example, envisages installing cameras on all buses and trains by the end of the year.

Police and counter-terrorism experts said the measures should facilitate the task of investigators after attacks are carried out but would do little to deter the terrorists themselves.

"The measures are supposed to improve the work of the police. They will tighten the mesh. But that doesn't mean the most determined won't still be able to get through," said Eric Denécé, director of the French Centre for Intelligence Research.

"The law won't systematically stop the attacks. But it will make it easier to identify those responsible, and get to the root of the networks," said Stéphane Berthomet, a former member of the police anti-terrorist division.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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