France

Combine intelligence services, says Paris attacks inquiry

A poster reads 'Je suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) amid symbolic pens and pencils as people gather for a minute of silence commemorating those killed in a shooting at French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo'.
A poster reads 'Je suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) amid symbolic pens and pencils as people gather for a minute of silence commemorating those killed in a shooting at French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo'. PHOTO: EPA

PARIS • A French inquiry into the terror attacks that rocked Paris last year yesterday recommended combining the country's multiple intelligence services after their "global failure" in thwarting the assaults.

The parliamentary inquiry was set up in February to probe possible security failings in the run-up to two major terror attacks in Paris that left 147 people dead.

France currently has six different intelligence units answering to the Interior, Defence and Economy ministries.

After 200 hours of hearings, lawmakers found that the different agencies had struggled to communicate about known extremists who had either been under surveillance, in prison or had their phones tapped at some point before carrying out attacks.

The president of the commission of inquiry, former judge Georges Fenech, said that the barriers between the different intelligence services led to the surveillance of Said Kouachi, who attacked the offices of French weekly Charlie Hebdo, being dropped when he moved from Paris to the north-eastern city of Reims.

Two days after the attack, gunman Amedy Coulibaly took shoppers hostage at a Jewish supermarket, killing four people. He also shot dead a policewoman.

Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Coulibaly - a known radical and repeat offender - represented intelligence failings within the prison system, having been released from custody without being placed under surveillance.

The French system of judicial supervision, whereby terror suspects not deemed dangerous enough to be remanded are instead ordered to report regularly to the police, also contained "weaknesses", said Socialist lawmaker Sebastien Pietrasanta.

Samy Amimour, who was involved in the attack on the Bataclan concert hall on Nov 13 last year, was able to travel to Syria in 2013 despite a ban on leaving France.

The lawmakers heard from an anti-terrorism judge that terrorists were subject to the same level of surveillance as small-time crooks who peddle marijuana when released from prison under court supervision.

Mr Fenech recommended the establishment of a single "national anti-terrorism agency" in a country which remains a prime target for attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

"Our country was not ready, now we must get ready," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline 'Combine intelligence services, says Paris attacks inquiry'. Print Edition | Subscribe