By: Nicolas Seidman
This past year has been an unequivocal security challenge to the French government. November 13th marks the one-year anniversary of the Paris attacks, which left 130 dead and 368 wounded, as well as the State of emergency, still currently in place. France has sustained three additional significant terrorist attacks since last November, adding over 500 people to the list of casualties.  In response, the government has made efforts to improve its prosecution legislation, reform its internal intelligence networks, and expand its counter-violent extremism programs. Despite such well-intentioned actions, this progress has been largely negligible. The failure to implement a coherent counter-terrorism strategy rather than rely on emergency measures continues to make France vulnerable to future Paris style attacks.
Governmental responses to the attack
The French government has improved some of its counter-terrorism capabilities since the Bataclan attack, yet must pass legislation to better address the security concerns that the state of emergency cannot. The State of emergency includes the ability of the police to conduct mass raids, heighten surveillance, detain and put under house arrest all those deemed potential threats to the State. This has led to over 3,000 raids, 743 weapons seized, 341 individuals in police custody, 571 judicial proceedings, 407 house arrests and 10 mosques closed for extremist ties. Despite the impressive numbers, only 28 individuals have been prosecuted under anti-terrorism legislation since February and has not increased considerably since.
The failure to identify and correctly prosecute suspected terrorists highlights the necessity for a revamped counter-terrorism strategy. To this end, instances such as the deadly attack at a Church in Normandy in July underlines the failure of the State of emergency to provide a credible counter-terrorism strategy. The perpetrator was put under house arrest after trying to join ISIS twice. Despite the clear presence of a potential foreign fighter the assailant was allowed four hours to leave his premises every morning. During this time, he was able to commit a terror attack in the church, killing a priest and injuring three others.
France must continue to pass legislation to address the limitation of its counter-terrorism capabilities, such as internal intelligence reform and prosecution of terrorists. The government has begun, in some ways, to understand the issues with the State of Emergency. It has advanced to legislate twice on counter-terrorism since the November attacks; the law of surveillance of international electronic communications and the law against organized crime, terrorism, and their finance. The first law adds a new article to the domestic security law which facilitates surveillance of devices in suspect of terrorism-related activity. The second law provides prosecutors and judges with increased investigative power, allowing for more operation leeway in relation to the financing of organized crime and terrorism, as these two are often inter-related. These laws will likely enable a long-term solution.
Most of the government’s failure in formulating an effective counter-terrorism strategy is attributed to the disagreement between policy-makers. Most notable example of this was after the release of a parliamentary inquiry into the State’s method of fighting against terrorism since January 2015. French Parliamentarian Mr. Fenech, who spearheaded the inquiry, underlined the importance of a streamlined, more effective national intelligence agency. The inquiry highlighted the failure of intelligence agencies to maintain surveillance of Said Kouachi (one of the Charlie Hebdo assailants) when he moved from Paris to Rouen and failed to prevent Samy Amimour (one of the Bataclan assailants) from leaving to Syria despite being black-listed. He proposed to use the framework underlying the National Counter-Intelligence Centre (NCTC), created post-9/11 by the United States for a new agency.
However, the current Minister of the Interior refuses to recognize the significance of the report, emphasizing that a national agency would create communication fog between agencies. Without a coherent strategy, the deadlock between MPs will only widen even further, and France will continue to be vulnerable to another Paris-style attack.
Clear and present danger
Despite the setbacks French counter-terrorism strategy has made some progress on its counter-violent extremism programs. Prisons have provided a breeding ground for the radicalization of inmates. It is estimated that 68 percent of foreign fighters from France, who left to join ISIS, have served prison time. Five detention centres have been created specifically to address radicalized individuals. Additionally, 60 Muslim councilors have been recruited to maintain the narrative of peace in the Islamic faith.
The jihadists of tomorrow
France now faces a greater diversity of terrorist profiles as oppose to those of the November attacks. More specifically, the country can expect to witness two, more prominent, types to emerge. The first are returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria. With the decline in the territory of the ISIS, the European Jihadists are due to return to their native countries. The majority of these foreign fighters’ hail from France. These fighters bring back with them both greater skills and motivation than their home-grown counterparts. Second are ‘flash-to-bang’ radicalized individuals. These are seen in perpetrators like the one from the Nice attack. These individuals are not long-time proponents to the jihadist ideology. Instead, they become radicalized within weeks, not months. This impulsive radicalization makes it harder for these individuals to get flagged by security services and thus impervious to their pre-emptive measures.
The perception of public insecurity in France shifts the narrative in favour of the terrorists. Its citizens must be resilient and go about their lives un-wavered by the threats of terrorism. The government can begin by cultivating a coherent strategy that addresses the changing landscape of the threat, far from the State of emergency that has failed to serve it well.
Nicolas Seidman is a second-year War Studies undergraduate at King’s College London. He previously worked as a research assistant for the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Israel. His main areas of focus are Islamic radicalization in France, terrorist group cooperation, and COIN operations in the Sahel.
 Magnaville (2 deaths), Nice (86 deaths and 434 wounded), and Normandy (1 death and 3 injured)
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Image 1 credit: http://www.leparisien.fr/societe/attentat-de-nice-chez-les-moins-de-30-ans-la-tristesse-l-emporte-sur-la-peur-22-07-2016-5986921.php
Image 2 credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/05/pictures-of-the-day-5-august-2016/french-soldiers-patrol-the-promenade-des-anglais-in-nice-france/
Feature image credit: http://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/paris-attack-image-slideshow