France creates new counter-terrorism task force after Notre Dame attack

A new French counter-terrorism task force starts its first day on the job, less than 24 hours after another apparent militant attack hit Paris at its Notre Dame cathedral.
French policemen point their weapons near the site of an attack at the entrance of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on June 6, 2017.
French policemen point their weapons near the site of an attack at the entrance of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on June 6, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - France created a new counter-terrorism task force on Wednesday (June 7) comprised of all intelligence services that will coordinate responses to attacks, a day after a man carrying Algerian papers attacked police officers outside the Notre Dame cathedral.

Newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron, portrayed by rivals as weak on security during the presidential campaign, last month instructed the task force be created to bring together France's multiple security agencies inside the Elysee presidential palace.

The performance of France's intelligence services have come under close scrutiny since the November 2015 attacks on Paris, when militant gunmen and suicide bombers struck entertainment venues across the capital, killing 130 people.

In total, more than 230 people have been killed in a wave of attacks in France either claimed by or inspired by Islamic State over the past two-and-a-half years.

In Tuesday's attack, a 40-year-old Algerian student armed with a hammer and kitchen knives shouted "this is for Syria" as he wounded a policeman, before being shot by police officers.

A source close to the investigation said a video in which the attacker pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had been found in his flat during a police raid on Tuesday evening.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said that the assailant had not previously "shown any signs of radicalisation".

A surveillance video obtained by Reuters showed the assailant running up to three police officers in the square outside Notre Dame and attempting to land a blow with the hammer. One officer was hurt before the aggressor was shot in the chest.

Macron on Wednesday appointed Pierre de Bousquet de Florian to head the new intelligence task force known as the National Centre for Counter Terrorism. It will be under direct authority of the president.

Bousquet de Florian once headed France's DST regional intelligence service that was disbanded under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

It will include some 20 people representing the various security services and be operational 24 hours seven days a week. "This has been created to ensure that the intelligence services truly cooperate," said a French presidency official.

Macron also named career diplomat Bernard Emie, who served as ambassador to Britain, Turkey, Libya and Jordan, as head of the DGSE external intelligence service.