The French government introduced a new anti-terrorism bill designed to facilitate the prosecution of anyone attending terrorist training camps abroad.
The move, inspired by the Toulouse shootings in March, which saw four Jews killed by self-confessed al Qaeda sympathiser outside a Jewish school, would allow the government to pursue suspected terrorist “even if they haven’t committed any crimes on French soil”, explained government spokesman Najad Vallaud-Belkacem.
French-born Mohamed Merah killed a total of seven people, including three children, in a shooting spree in the Toulouse area earlier this year. His elder brother Abdelkhader was later examined twice by police on suspicion of having indoctrinated Mohammed, 24, in radical Islam. Abdelkhader, who had previously been investigated by police for his links to extremist group, admitted on questioning to having taken part in Islamist training programmes in Afghanistan and Pakistan in late 2010, as well as spending several months in Egypt to learn Arabic, where his brother joined him “at the end of the Summer of 2010”.
The proposed reforms, which have received the backing of President Francois Hollande, are designed to help combat "the spread of radicalism or jihadism on the Internet and to identify people returning to France after training or participating in terrorist actions". If adopted the legislation could come into force by the end of the year and would allow authorities to award those convicted with jail sentences of up to 10 years for “association with a terrorist enterprise”.
In August, French daily Le Monde reported it had received confidential documents proving beyond doubt that Merah did not act alone. A list of 186 phone calls to contacts in 20 foreign countries made by him, it said, pointed to a global network of contacts supporting his planned attacks and supported claims he had acted with the help of accomplices.
Last month, a gathering of Jewish and Muslim leaders heard Islamophobic incidents increased by more than 14% in the first half of 2012, as anti-Semitic acts reached an all-time high following the Toulouse shootings.
According to the Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ), there were 310 violent or threatening anti-Semitic acts in the first half of 2012, compared with 226 during the same period of 2011, equating to an increase of more than 37%. Announcing the new bill, Vallaud-Belkacem admitted “the terrorist threat remains at a very high level in France”.