France to hire thousands of intelligence, counter-terrorism staff after Paris attacks: PM Valls

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaks during a press conference to unveil new security measures ahead of a defence council at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Jan 21, 2015. France will hire thousands more intelligence and counter-terrorism staf
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaks during a press conference to unveil new security measures ahead of a defence council at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Jan 21, 2015. France will hire thousands more intelligence and counter-terrorism staff after the country was hit by its worst terrorist attacks in decades earlier this month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday according to Agence France-Presse. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS - France will hire thousands more police, spies and investigators by 2018 after the country was hit by its worst terrorist attacks in decades earlier this month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday.

The office of President Francois Hollande said later on Wednesday the government would cut 7,500 fewer defence jobs in the period from 2015 until 2019 than the 34,000 previously planned in response to increased security needs even as it seeks to cut its public deficit, Agence France-Presse reported.

This year, 1,500 fewer cuts than planned would take place, AFP said, citing a statement from the president’s office..

Valls told a news conference earlier that authorities have to monitor nearly 3,000 people - a 130 per cent increase in one year - involved in “terrorist networks", as he unveiled measures to combat Islamist terrorism after the multiple attacks in Paris. 

“The number one priority, the number one requirement, is to further reinforce the human and technical resources of intelligence services,” Valls was cited by AFP as saying.

He announced more than 700 million euros (S$1.08 billion) will be spent over the next three years on “the fight against terrorism” after the January 7-9 shootings which left 17 people dead.

At the top of the measures was the creation of 2,680 new security jobs in the police, justice, intelligence and defence sectors by 2018 for anti-extremism work, surveillance and security, Reuters reported.

Dozens of extra Muslim chaplains would also be employed to work with potential militants in France’s overcrowded jails, adding to the 182 clerics already in place. Two of the Paris gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi, are believed to have turned to radical Islam in prison where they met.

“The fight against terrorism, jihadism and radical Islam will be a long haul,” Valls told the news conference after the measures were agreed by Hollande’s Cabinet. “The first requirement is that we further reinforce the human and material assets of our intelligence services,” said Valls, who after the Paris attacks conceded there could have been “shortfalls” in monitoring and justice arrangements.

FIRST SUSPECTS CHARGED

France’s worst attack in decades began on January 7 when Cherif and his brother Said Kouachi gunned down 12 people in an attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Coulibaly the next day shot dead a policewoman, and the day after that killed four people in a hostage drama in a Jewish supermarket. All three gunmen were killed by police in dramatic raids.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said four men believed to have assisted Coulibaly were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, and one of them for possession and transport of weapons. Investigators discovered that three of the men had on several occasions visited specialist stores around Paris to “buy equipment” such as knives, a taser gun, tactical vests and pepper spray. However a probe into the Kouachi brothers had made little headway and could take “months, even years”.

The attacks have forced France to face up to its failure to integrate poorer, migrant families, with Valls saying on Tuesday that the country was plagued by “social and ethnic apartheid”.

Education officials are on Wednesday due to announce plans to boost civic spirit and respect of France’s highly-prized secularism in schools, after a series of incidents where pupils refused to honour tributes to attack victims and expressed support for the extremists.

EUROPE MULLS SECURITY MEASURES

The attacks prompted a flurry of police activity across Europe with raids taking place on suspected Islamist cells in Belgium and Germany. Greece on Tuesday ordered the extradition of a 33-year-old Algerian man with suspected links to an extremist cell dismantled in Belgium. And in Bulgaria, a court ruled that a Frenchman who knew two of the Paris attackers should be returned to his home country. In Brussels, European commissioners will meet Wednesday to discuss the 28-nation bloc’s new counterterrorism strategy, including changes to the region’s Schengen free travel area and intelligence cooperation.

Many EU states have pushed for a US-style database of air travellers’ details that would help track Islamist suspects, but the European Parliament has so far blocked the scheme saying it would breach civil liberties. Some European nations have also been pushing for a tightening of the Schengen visa-free zone.

“They will discuss subjects including passenger name records and data retention, the functioning of the Schengen area and cooperation between security services,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a briefing ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

The fallout from the attacks has led to massive protests in Muslim countries, furious after the Charlie Hebdo magazine responded to the killing of its staff by publishing a new cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

Banned by Islam, the depiction of the prophet was taken as an insult to Muslims who burned French flags and threatened the country in protests in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Gaza, Iran and Pakistan. In Niger protests turned deadly as 10 people were killed and dozens of churches were torched.

Meanwhile in Washington, President Barack Obama said the US stood side by side with terror victims around the world, citing the Paris attacks in his State of the Nation address late Tuesday.