The French government has drafted a law to prosecute citizens suspected of attending Islamist militant camps abroad. Authorities will also be able to eavesdrop on the online activities of “potential terrorists”.
France’s new socialist government outlined the hardline measures in a draft bill six months after extremist Mohamed Merah gunned down seven people, including three Jewish children in front of a school in Toulouse.
If the legislation is passed by parliament, citizens suspected of having committed terrorist activity outside of France will be taken into custody for questioning and possible trial, whereas before this was only possible if suspects were on French soil.
Spokesperson for President Francois Hollande’s government Najat Vallaud-Belkacaem said that they expected to pass the bill before the end of this year. She stressed in a press statement that the “terrorist threat remains at a very high level in France.”
"We have laws in place that allow that keep tabs on pedophiles abroad, but not for potential terrorists. We must ensure that we take the same action against them as pedophiles and sex tourists," commented an intelligence specialist on Tuesday to AFP.
The bill also looks set to extent special measures that allow police access to private communications that were due to expire at the end of 2012. The law would extend these powers until 2015 with the possibility of a vote to make them permanent.
"The terrorist threat remains high-level in France," said a government statement on the new legislation. "It is essential that we can detect when people, collectively or individually, embark on the road to radicalization and terrorist violence."
French police came under fire following Merah’s shooting spree six months ago for failing to act on intelligence dating back to 2009 that linked the gunman to foreign Islamist groups.
The then-Interior Minister Claude Gueant fought off criticism on the basis that the French police were only authorized to arrest an individual who had committed crimes on French territory and as such were not within their rights to take Merah into custody prior to the killings.
French intelligence indicates that there are currently several dozen citizens in the tribal border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan who fight or train with terrorist organizations. The authorities aim to locate these individuals and place them under government surveillance.